The Supreme Court hears a case today on Texas redistricting maps that could pose a challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which forces states with a history of discrimination to pre-clear their election laws with the Justice Department. The Christian Science Monitor explains the court case:
At issue is whether federal judges in San Antonio overstepped their authority when they took it upon themselves to redraw congressional and state house election districts without any prior judicial determination that maps drawn for that purpose by the Texas Legislature were illegal or unconstitutional.
Texas officials object to using interim judge-drawn maps while election districts established by the state Legislature remain tied up in ongoing litigation [...]
Meanwhile, a federal three-judge panel in Washington is set to consider whether the original maps drawn by the Texas Legislature should be given preclearance for use in the upcoming election – and future elections – or whether there are parts of that must be amended to comply with the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution.
This will have to be determined on an expedited basis, because the Texas primary takes place on April 3.
There are two major implications for the ruling. First, the legislature’s maps differ strongly from the ones drawn by federal judges. As many as four seats could shift from Republicans to Democrats depending on which maps get used. As a result, because of the expected close race for the House, the choice of maps could determine which party holds the majority.
But there’s a larger issue at stake. Groups like the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) sued the state because the legislature’s maps didn’t comply with the VRA, particularly by diluting the political power of Hispanic minorities. In its brief, Texas all but said that the Court should invalidate the need for pre-clearance under the Voting Rights Act. “Redistricting is an inherently political process, and – in the absence of some violation of statutory or constitutional law – it is wholly committed to the discretion of state legislatures,” said solicitor Paul Clement in his Supreme Court brief. While the case turns on the ruling of the three-judge panel, which invalidated the legislature’s maps and submitted interim maps to use in their place while the case made its way through the judicial process, this could have implications for the Voting Rights Act.
A potential case in South Carolina, where the Justice Department rejected a change to voter ID laws, could also target the Voting Rights Act. The upshot is that the VRA pre-clearance provision is firmly within the sights of the conservative movement. Whether this lawsuit or a future one will make the determination is a bit unclear. But the Court will have to decide.