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- Justice Samuel Alito
The two rulings, one made in San Antonio by a three-judge panel on August 24, the other by a Corpus Christi judge ten days earlier, both address an issue that's long-plagued Texas' voting system: gerrymandering. That's when lawmakers intentionally re-draw state or federal district lines to skew voting power, usually done to favor a certain political party. In these recent cases, however, the federal courts found that conservative Texas lawmakers specifically drew district lines to dilute the votes of African American and Hispanic Texans and "ensure Anglo control" over the state.
In both cases, the federal judges ordered Texas officials to re-draw the unconstitutional districts (for both state House and U.S. House districts) and present then to the court within the next few weeks. This quick-turn timeline could help guarantee Texas has new, legal districts in place before the 2018 elections.
Now, Alito has thrown a judicial wrench in the plan.
Unsurprisingly, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton appealed both of these orders, which prompted a response from conservative justice Alito. Alito's two brief orders turn the tables on the federal rulings, tasking the minority rights groups involved in the cases to respond to Paxton's appeal within the next week. Alito's only allowed to make this one-man ruling because he's the justice assigned to oversee rulings out of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (which includes Texas).
His request will likely delay the state from drawing up new district lines in time to be approved for the 2018 election, since it will require input from the full Supreme Court which is currently on vacation (everyone but Alito, that is).