A federal court has thrown out Texas’ redistricting plan, charging that it was discriminatory to minority voters. DC Circuit Judge Thomas Griffith ruled that the court would not pre-clear Texas’ map under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

“We conclude that Texas has failed to show that any of the redistricting plans merits preclearance,” the court said.

The court wasn’t ruling on interim maps drawn by federal judges — the maps in use for the current election — but on those drawn by state lawmakers last year. Lawyers are still looking through the opinions for anything that might disrupt the current elections.

Election Law guru Rick Hasen of the University of California at Irvine writes that this will not impact the 2012 elections; the maps used in 2012, which were interim in nature, will not have to be redrawn. However, under this ruling, the maps would have to be redrawn before the 2014 primaries, pending appeal. Hasen also links to this part of the ruling, which is pretty suggestive:

As we have already noted, CDs 9, 18, and 30 are the only Black ability districts in the benchmark and enacted plans. CD 9 is located south of Houston and incorporates parts of Harris and Fort Bend Counties, CD 18 is located within Houston, and CD 30 is within Dallas. The Texas legislature proposed substantial changes to these districts even though the 2010 Census data shows the population in each was already close to the ideal size. We have already determined that these changes are not retrogressive, but they raise serious concerns about what motivated the Congressional Plan.

Congressman Al Green, who represents CD 9, testified that “substantial surgery” was done to his district that could not have happened by accident. The Medical Center, Astrodome, rail line, and Houston Baptist University — the “economic engines” of the district — were all removed in the enacted plan… The enacted plan also removed from CD 9 the area where Representative Green had established his district office… Likewise, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, who represents CD 18, testified that the plan removed from her district key economic generators as well as her district office… Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson of CD 30 also testified that the plan removed the American Center (home of the Dallas Mavericks), the arts district, her district office, and her home from CD 30… The mapdrawers also removed the district office, the Alamo, and the Convention Center (named after the incumbent’s father), from CD 20, a Hispanic ability district…

No such surgery was performed on the districts of Anglo incumbents. In fact, every Anglo member of Congress retained his or her district office… Anglo district boundaries were redrawn to include particular country clubs and, in one case, the school belonging to the incumbent’s grandchildren… And Texas never challenged evidence that only minority districts lost their economic centers by showing, for example, that the same types of changes had been made in Anglo districts.

Texas literally justified this as a “coincidence.”

Perhaps more important than anything is that the pre-clearance responsibilities of the Voting Rights Act were firmly upheld, though that could be subject to change at the Supreme Court. But if this ruling holds, you would see not only a restored Voting Rights Act, but a new redistricting map for 2014 that would be more favorable to minority voters, and presumably Democrats.