In the case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court, Texas is contesting a federal court’s redrawing of the state’s electoral district lines for the upcoming primary election.
Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, Texas must get preclearance from the U.S. Department of Justice before it can institute any voting changes.
“This case gives the Supreme Court an opportunity to weaken or even strike down Section 5,” says Gregory Magarian, JD, election law expert and professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis.
“If Texas wins, even if the Court stops short of striking down Section 5 altogether, it will mark a major change in the law. The Supreme Court will essentially be saying that racial voting discrimination by state officials is no longer a problem that justifies a federal remedy.”
Following the 2010 census, the Texas legislature redrew the state’s electoral districts, adding four new Congressional districts reflecting the state's growth. Various groups, mostly representing the interests of Latino voters, challenged the legislature’s map as racially discriminatory. Texas did not get federal preclearance within the required time frame.
“The legislature’s map does very little to increase the voting power of Latinos, who accounted for two-thirds of the state’s population growth during the past decade, so the challengers have a credible argument that the legislature violated the core principles of racial neutrality that Section 5 is designed to safeguard,” Magarian says.
The three-judge district court assigned to hear the challenges drew its own interim map; Texas argues that the court should have allowed the state to use the legislature’s map pending resolution of the dispute.
“The facts of this case are somewhat unusual, but if the Supreme Court were deciding the case purely on the basis of past precedent, the challengers should prevail,” Magarian says.
“The district court confronted a situation where Texas had failed to secure preclearance, and accordingly the district court did what it was supposed to do – draw its own map. The map appears to satisfy basic principles of election law.”
Magarian says the case is important because “several members of the Court – including Justice (Anthony) Kennedy, likely the pivotal vote – have expressed doubts about the continuing viability of the Section 5 preclearance requirement, based on concerns about federalism.”