By Nicole Flatow
In a unanimous unsigned opinion, the court rejected election maps devised by a Texas federal district court, asking the lower court to give the map-drawing another try, this time using the original maps drawn by the Texas Legislature as a "starting point."
As UC Irving Law professor Rick Hasen notes in very early commentary for Election Law Blog, the decision is a win for the Texas, “and will require the drawing of districts much more likely to favor Texas’s interim plan.” The alternative court-drawn map was the result of legal challenges alleging that the map discriminated against minorities.
Hasen breaks down the decision:
Speaking non-technically, the Supreme Court held that the three-judge court erred in starting its redistricting plan from scratch. It should have started with the state’s plan, and then adjusted to the extent the plan violated the Voting Rights Act or the Constitution.
More technically, the Court held that as to the Voting Rights Act section 2 standards, the three-judge court is not to defer on those districts where it appears more likely than not that Texas is in violation of the section 2 standards. (Burden appears to be on the VRA section 2 plaintiffs.)
As to section 5, however, because only the Washington DC court can decide on preclearance, the Court is not to take the section 5 preclearance question into account unless those plans have a reasonable probability of failing section 5 review (a tough standard for challengers to the law to meet).
In a concurrence, Justice Clarence Thomas reiterated his view that Section 5 of the Voting rights Act is unconstitutional, and said he therefore would have asked the court to proceed with the initial map drawn by the Legislature.
For more on today’s decision, see analysis by SCOTUSblog’s Lyle Denniston.