The Supreme Court Friday sent a San Antonio panel of federal judges back to the drawing board, throwing out the panel's interim redistricting plan.
The High Court's unanimous order is a win for the state and Attorney General Greg Abbott, who argued the San Antonio judges should have used the Lege-approved, GOP-friendly maps as a starting point for any interim plan. In a statement Friday, Abbott said, “The Supreme Court confirmed that the San Antonio court drew illegal maps, without regard for the policy decisions of elected leaders.
The Supreme Court's swift decision will allow Texas to move forward with elections as soon as possible, under maps that are lawful.”
The Supreme Court ruling reads in part:
Section 5 prevents a state plan from being implemented if it has not been precleared. But that does not mean that the plan is of no account or that the policy judgments it reflects can be disregarded by a district court drawing aninterim plan. On the contrary, the state plan serves as a starting point for the district court. It provides importantguidance that helps ensure that the district court appropriately confines itself to drawing interim maps that comply with the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act,without displacing legitimate state policy judgments withthe court’s own preference.
Jose Garza, an attorney with the Mexican American Legislative Caucus who argued the case before the Supreme Court, told the Express-News the High Court's order doesn't necessarily mean a new interim plan would look more like the Lege's maps. The Supremes, he said, essentially ordered more explanation from the San Antonio judges on their decision in drawing the interim plan.
“The court in Texas must be more clear.
We could come up with something very similar to the San Antonio maps; the court just has to explain it better,” he told the E-N.
The ruling means we still don't have solid maps for the spring primary elections, leaving political boundaries hazy for candidates itching to campaign. Abbott and the state had argued the San Antonio panel should have stuck more closely to the Lege-drawn map, which provided as many as three more GOP-friendly congressional districts than the court's interim plan (see our previous coverage here).
It's not clear how quickly things move from here. State primaries have already been bumped back to April 3. And another panel of federal judges in D.C. are currently hearing arguments on the legality of the Lege's maps under the Voting Rights Act – the state's maps have yet to win federal pre-clearance. That case doesn't wrap arguments until February 3.
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