The Supreme Court began hearing arguments Monday in the Texas redistricting case that could reach far beyond the districts in dispute. What began as a partisan spat could end up as a challenge to the Voting Rights Act and the power of Congress. Every 10 years when the census count is in, the states redraw the boundaries of their state and federal election districts to reflect changes in the population over the past decade. In Texas, as in most states, that is the job of the majority party of the legislature. After Republicans became a majority of the Legislature in 2002, they took control of the redistricting process. They drew plans designed to keep and increase their legislative and congressional majorities in 2012 at the expense of the will of minority voters.
Texas gained four new congressional seats in the apportionment process. African American and Latino voters accounted for about 90 percent of that growth. Yet the GOP-controlled Legislature drew a plan likely to elect only one more congressional representative preferred by minority voters.
Texas is one of nine Southern states placed under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, and the state must “preclear” redistricting plans with either the U.S. Department of Justice or the federal district court in the District of Columbia to guard against racial gerrymandering. Texas asked the D.C. court for preclearance, but the court found enough merit in the charges of racial gerrymandering to halt implementation of the Texas GOP plan and set a Jan. 17 trial. The D.C. court referred the case to a three-judge federal panel in San Antonio to draw an interim map in time for the 2012 primaries.