Supreme Court Upholds 5-4 Texas Electoral Districts That Diminished Black & Hispanic Voting Power
The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to uphold electoral districts drawn by the state legislature in Texas that had been thrown out by a lower court for diminishing the influence of black and Hispanic voters.
Much of the population growth Texas has seen has come from the Latino population. In 2012, a federal court imposed electoral maps for the election that differed from the ones the state drew in 2011, saying the previous ones were racially discriminatory. Texas initially largely adopted the court–drawn maps as a permanent fix, but in 2013 challengers claimed the maps should be redrawn to further eliminate discrimination.
Last year, a lower court found that the 2013 electoral districts furthered the 2011 plan’s discrimination and called not keeping the 2012 plan a “litigation strategy.” The court had found that the configuration of two U.S. House of Representatives districts violated the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which protects minority voters from racial discrimination in voting.
However, Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the five-justice majority consisting of himself, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch and Anthony Kennedy, said that Texas’ actions in 2013 were permitted by the Constitution and said the lower court had “committed a fundamental legal error” in its assessment of the case.
Alito also wrote that Texas didn’t have to prove that it had gotten rid of any discriminatory intent when it adopted the 2013 maps and courts should assume legislatures acted in “good faith” when assessing claims of discrimination.
“Today’s decision essentially says, ‘Go ahead and discriminate,’” Justin Levitt, a Loyola Law School professor who worked on the case in the Justice Department during the Obama administration, told the Huffington Post. “If you get caught, worst thing that happens, you’ll have to slap a Band-Aid over it, worst case scenario. Which is a serious problem. Texas was accused of doing the most serious thing there is in our legal system – intentionally abusing state power to take action against people because of their race. The court essentially said if you put a happy face on it, it’s fine.”
Richard Hansen, an election law expert at at the University of California, Irvine, wrote in Slate that Alito’s “good faith” deference to lawmakers makes it nearly impossible for states to prove intentional discrimination.
“After years of litigation and undeniable proof of undeniable discrimination, minority voters in Texas – despite constituting a majority of the population within the State – will continue to be underrepresented in the political process,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a dissent, the opinion joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer. “Those voters must return to the polls in 2018 and 2020 with the knowledge that their ability to exercise meaningfully their right to vote has been burdened by the manipulation of district lines specifically designed to target their communities and minimize their political will.”