The Supreme Court ruled this morning that federal judges in Texas overstepped their bounds in drawing a minority-friendly set of interim maps for the state to use in the 2012 elections. The Court ruled unanimously that the judges should have given more deference to the new district maps drawn by the Republican-controlled Texas legislature even though parts of these maps may discriminate against Latinos. The Department of Justice has argued that the state legislature’s plans would harm minorities and violate the Voting Rights Act. A panel of federal judges in Washington, D.C., is in the process of determining whether those plans did, in fact, break the law. Because that decision may not be made in time for the next elections, federal judges in San Antonio were tasked with drawing interim maps for the state to use. The maps used in Texas’ next elections could impact the balance of power in Congress. They will likely determine whether the four new congressional seats awarded Texas via the census will be held by Democrats or Republicans. The Supreme Court’s decision leaves the fate of those seats in limbo.
The maps created by Texas’ legislature were seen as likely to give at least three of those new congressional seats to white Republicans, while the rejected maps drawn by the federal court in San Antonio were seen as more favorable to Democrats.
Instead of ruling that Texas should use either of these sets of maps, the Court sent the federal judges in San Antonio back to the drawing board, ordering them to base their maps more closely on the state’s plan. They should make changes, the court ruled, only when there are specific legal challenges to the map that are likely to succeed.
The Court stated that judges have no business making their own policy choices via map lines. But how this decision will affect the maps Texas will use in the 2012 elections is unclear.