Supreme Court says 'grounds for concerns' with Texas redistricting maps

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 20, 2012 

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Friday ordered a Texas panel of judges to reconsider the latest maps drawn for the state's legislative districts.

In an 11-page, unsigned decision, the court unanimously ruled that there are "grounds for concern" with how the Texas-based judges drew the redistricting maps. The decision further roils an already unsettled election, currently set for April 3.

"It is unclear whether the (lower court) followed the appropriate stand-ards in drawing interim maps for the 2012 Texas elec-tions," the high court stated.

At issue are the districts the Texas Legislature drew after the 2010 census and whether they're viable under the Voting Rights Act. The law protects the voting rights of minorities in nine Southern states with histories of discrimination.

The Supreme Court weighed in after the state of Texas asked for an emergency stay of a U.S. District San Antonio three-judge panel's imposition of an interim map for 2012. This map, in turn, was designed after the Washington judges failed to approve — or "pre-clear" — the maps as required by the Voting Rights Act.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund argues that some of those seats should be drawn as minority opportunity districts that are Democratic-leaning.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott argues it is "perfectly reasonable to draw the lines" for the emerging number of Hispanic Republicans.

In its ruling Friday, the Supreme Court concluded that the lower courts "should take guidance" from state redistricting plans.

"That plan reflects the state’s policy judgments on where to place new districts and how to shift existing ones in response to massive population growth," the court stated.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas proposed going further, byarguing that the pre-clearance requirements themselves are unconstitutional.

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