If the Supreme Court were a car, it would be a Volvo. Slow, safe, and built for the long haul. In fact if Bush v. Gore taught us anything, it’s that when the court tries to be a Lamborghini, racing to meet deadlines and flipping through its day planners to forestall impending election disasters, that’s usually when the law ends up flipping a guardrail and landing upside down on the side of the road.
The good folks of Texas have an election looming. Specifically, on April 4 (already pushed back from March 6) they are meant to go to the polls to vote in a primary. That’s problematic because they currently have no districting maps. Or, to be more precise, they currently have three. They have the map that was used 10 years ago, before the population expanded by 4.3 million voters (of whom 65 percent are Hispanic), thus requiring that legislative lines be redrawn to reflect that minority voting will not be diluted under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. (That will mean four more seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.) Then we have the redistricting map drawn by the GOP-dominated Texas legislature, which is also obsolete, because under Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, states with a history of discrimination in voting must be “precleared” by either the U.S. Justice Department or a federal court in Washington, D.C., before any election-related modifications can be put into place. A federal court in Washington is set to decide whether the Texas redistricting plan will be precleared, but possibly seconds before the April primary. Enter the third set of maps, cooked up by a federal court in Texas—in part at the behest of the federal court in D.C., and several minority groups who say the new maps drawn up by the legislature in no way reflect the minority growth in the state. The Texas court thus drew up a set of “interim maps” to get Texas through this election crisis. One might think that with two federal courts working off three sets of maps, over two dueling sections of the Voting Rights Act, all on a ticking deadline, the worst possible decision would be for yet another court to step in.