Since October, the Supreme Court has heard oral argument in two major redistricting battles, involving allegations of partisan gerrymandering in Wisconsin and Maryland. When the justices take the bench next Tuesday, they will hear oral argument in a third redistricting dispute, this time involving allegations that Texas lawmakers drew federal congressional and state legislative districts that harmed some of the state’s black and Hispanic residents. The tale of the two cases known as Abbott v. Perez is a long and complicated one. It began in 2011, when Texas’ Republican-controlled legislature began redistricting in the wake of the 2010 census, which indicated that Texas had gained over four million new residents, who were predominantly minorities; that population growth meant that the state would get four new seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
But the plan that the legislature created never went into effect. A three-judge district court (the normal forum for redistricting challenges) in Texas blocked the state from using its new plans for both its congressional and state legislative districts, instead creating its own plans for the state to use in the 2012 elections. The state then went to the Supreme Court, where it argued that the district court, in formulating its interim plans, should have given more deference to the state’s plans.
Explaining that the three-judge district court may not have used the “appropriate standards,” the Supreme Court threw out the district court’s interim maps and instructed the court to use the state legislature’s maps as a “starting point” for new maps. The dispute went back to the district court, which devised new maps for the 2012 elections. In 2013, the state legislature adopted both of those maps as the state’s permanent maps; it made no changes to the new congressional map, and only minor changes to the new state legislative map.