Texas running out redistricting clock

April 29, 2018 GMT

Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked a question Tuesday that goes to the heart of the Texas redistricting case before the U.S. Supreme Court: “Are you ending the litigation, or are you ending the possibility of a court stopping you from discriminating?”

And the answer, of course, is that Texas’ intent, in appealing lower court findings that the maps were racially gerrymandered, was to continue denying minority voters representation of their choosing. In other words, Texas is running out the clock — until, perhaps, even the 2020 elections — so Republicans can stay in power.

Sotomayor posed the question after the U.S. solicitor general, inexplicably taking Texas’ side, argued that the state was proceeding in good faith to end the litigation without discriminatory intent. The Texas Legislature did this by adopting maps in 2013 that a federal court in San Antonio crafted hastily in time for the 2012 election, though they were clearly meant as interim and still contained racially gerrymandered districts from the 2011 maps that were under legal challenge.


In our view, there are three questions before the Supreme Court in this case. Did the state intentionally discriminate in its redistricting? Should Texas be compelled to redraw the maps as soon as possible? Should Texas, because of its history of voter discrimination, again be forced to submit to federal preclearance of changes to voting laws, including redistricting?

Yes, yes and yes.

But, instead, Supreme Court justices seemed to be more concerned about whether they should be hearing the case at all.

In ruling that the maps were discriminatory, the lower federal court didn’t issue an injunction on the maps’ use but asked Texas to return to court so the maps could be redrawn.

The state didn’t, appealing instead.

So, now, as the Texas Tribune’s Ross Ramsey expertly noted recently, even if Texas loses this case, it will have, in a very real sense, won.

If a court majority rules that the maps are constitutional, it wins outright. And if a court majority rules the courts are unconstitutional, this, Ramsey wrote, “would mean the mapmakers got to hold at least three elections and rule for six to eight years before being ordered to stop.”

And this cynical strategy to cling to power, while denying the fastest growing groups in Texas fair representation, demonstrates precisely why the court should require the state to get its changes in voting laws precleared by the federal government.

This was the rule before the Supreme Court in 2013 gutted a key section of the Voting Rights Act, saying that preclearance was no longer needed because of gains in voting rights. Texas demonstrates why that ruling was just plain wrong.

And Texas will demonstrate this time and again until it is stopped, either by the courts or by voters who have tired of all this.