Extinguishing the possibility that Texas could be placed back under federal electoral supervision, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday pushed aside claims that lawmakers intentionally discriminated against voters of color when they enacted the state’s congressional and state House maps.
In a 5-4 vote, the high court threw out a lower court ruling that had found that lawmakers intentionally undercut the voting power of Hispanic and black voters, oftentimes to keep white incumbents in office. The Supreme Court found that the evidence was “plainly insufficient” to prove that the 2013 Legislature acted in “bad faith.”
The Supreme Court also ruled that all but one of the 11 districts that had been flagged as problematic could remain intact. The one exception was Fort Worth-based Texas House District 90, which is occupied by Democratic Rep. Ramon Romero and was deemed an impermissible racial gerrymander because lawmakers illegally used race as the predominant factor in deciding its boundaries.
The Supreme Court’s ruling, which keeps all but one of the state’s political districts in place through the end of the decade, is a major blow to the maps’ challengers — civil rights groups, voters of color and Democratic lawmakers — who since 2011 have tried to convince the courts that lawmakers intentionally undercut the voting power of Hispanic and black voters, oftentimes to keep white incumbents in office.
The lower court’s finding of intentional discrimination was key to challengers’ efforts to persuade the courts to again require the state to get the federal government’s permission to change its election laws — a safeguard for voters of color that Texas was required to comply with until 2013, when the Supreme Court wiped the list clean.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, whose office defended the maps in court, praised the ruling.
“The court rightly recognized that the Constitution protects the right of Texans to draw their own legislative districts, and rejected the misguided efforts by unelected federal judges to wrest control of Texas elections from Texas voters,” Paxton said. “This is a huge win for the Constitution, Texas and the democratic process. Once again, Texans have the power to govern themselves.”