by Karl Kurtz
We haven't written about the U.S. Supreme Court accepting the Texas redistricting case in large part because it has been in the national news. But I've read half a dozen stories about the challenge that were either inaccurate or so murky that it was hard to make sense of the case--which is complex to begin with. Yesterday, though, the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza wrote "Texas redistricting case: Five things you need to know." It's a tidy summary of an untidy case and recommended reading. It includes this speculation on two of the more extreme possible outcomes of a Supreme Court ruling:
The real question, then, is what kind of instruction the Supreme Court offers. Those watching the process suggest two potentially far-reaching outcomes (among many other possibilities, which are too numerous to name).
First, the Supreme Court could tell the three-judge panel in San Antonio that it needs to draw something closer to the map drawn by the state legislature. Or second — and this is the Nuclear Option — it could say that the state should simply use the map drawn by the state legislature.
The former option would set a new standard when it comes to court-drawn maps. Currently, court-drawn maps are drawn with deference to the last constitutionally-approved map available (i.e. the existing map). Changing the standard would give state legislatures greater power over the final product, even in the event that their maps are invalidated.
The latter would be the big one, as some suggest it would essentially invalidate the section of the Voting Rights Act — Section 5 — that requires states like Texas to get pre-clearance. Essentially, the maps would no longer have to be pre-cleared. This would allow these states greater freedom to draw their maps and increase the burden on minority groups and others who may fight the maps in court. These groups would no longer have an avenue to stop the maps before they are enacted.
This is the first redistricting case that SCOTUS has accepted in the 2010 redistricting cycle and the first case since the high Court ruled in Bartlett vs. Strickland (North Carolina) in 2009.