In addition to the Texas redistricting case, the U.S. Supreme Court is weighing two other legal battles that could change the way political lines are drawn in all 50 states.
The high court has already heard oral arguments this term over whether lawmakers in Wisconsin and Maryland created political districts that were improperly gerrymandered along partisan lines, producing maps that gave one party an unfair advantage in elections.
A third partisan gerrymandering case out of North Carolina also is waiting in the wings at the Supreme Court, and observers are watching closely to see if the nine justices place any limits on drawing district lines that provide one party with outsized political influence.
“The court could say that taking partisanship too much into account or in a particular way violates the equal protection clause — and that would open up a host of cases across the country that will be based on a partisan gerrymandering claim,” said Rick Hasen, who runs the Election Law Blog as a professor of law and political science at the University of California-Irvine.
There is little overlap between the partisan gerrymandering cases and the Texas fight, which focuses on whether the Legislature adopted maps that discriminate against minority voters in violation of the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution.
However, if the court places limits on partisan mapmaking, “that could potentially come back to bite Texas” because state officials have defended the challenged maps by arguing that lawmakers drew the state’s political districts to gain partisan advantage, not to discriminate against minority voters, Hasen said.
“It’s not clear how far that argument goes in a state where race and party overlap so much, where 90 percent of black voters support Democrats and two-thirds of whites vote for Republicans,” he said.
Hasen said that, while he sees more potential for a far-reaching decision in the Wisconsin and Maryland cases, Tuesday’s arguments in the Texas case could provide clues about what’s at stake in that fight.
“The Texas case does not necessarily raise some of those fundamental questions about the far reaches of the Voting Rights Act, but you never know with the court, and we’ll see what happens Tuesday,” he said.