The Supreme Court on Friday unanimously overturned orders issued by a federal court in Texas that drew its own new maps for legislative districts, and ordered it to reconsider. In an 11-page unsigned opinion, the Court said that the three-judge District Court in San Antonio may not have used the “appropriate standards,” which the Court spelled out in some detail. Justice Clarence Thomas, in a separate opinion, repeated his view that a key federal voting rights act implicated in the Texas case is unconstitutional. The decision is here.
Because of Justice Thomas’s view about Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, he would have ordered the San Antonio court to let Texas use its own maps without change for the 2012 elections. However, the other Justices did not accept that approach, instead ordering the court in Texas to start with the state’s plan but also to make some rulings about whether any parts of it are likely to be nullified in court.
The Court ordered its ruling into effect immediately, thus stressing the importance of moving rapidly on a dispute in which there has been a Feb. 1 deadline for creation of new maps for the election of members of the Texas state legislature and its 36-member delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Justices themselves produced their opinions just 11 days after lawyers had argued the case.
When the case is taken up again by the San Antonio court, it is now under orders to use a series of maps drawn by the state legislature last year “as a starting point” for crafting any new districts. Although Texas’s own maps have not yet been legally cleared in Washington, as Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires, the Court said that does not mean that the legislature’s maps, or the policies that lay behind the creation of those maps, “can be disregarded by a district court drawing an interim plan.”