Supreme Court Largely Backs Texas on Disputed Voting Districts

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Supreme Court overturned a finding that Texas intentionally discriminated on the basis of race in drawing voting lines, largely siding with the state’s Republicans in a long-running legal clash.

Voting 5-4 along ideological lines, the court let Texas continue to use all but one aspect of two maps drawn by the Republican-controlled legislature for congressional and state elections.

The ruling came on the same day that the court told a panel of judges to reconsider a ruling that would force North Carolina to redraw its congressional voting map to give Republicans less of a partisan advantage.

In the Texas case, a lower court had ordered two congressional districts and state legislative districts in four counties redrawn. The panel said lawmakers violated the Constitution and the U.S. Voting Rights Act by intentionally diluting the clout of Hispanic and black voters.

Texas’s Republican leaders said the disputed districts, enacted in 2013, were identical to ones the lower court had put in place the year before on an interim basis.

Writing for the court, Justice Samuel Alito said the "only direct evidence" in the case suggested that lawmakers were simply trying to avoid additional litigation over their districts.

‘Degree of Uncertainty’

"On its face, this explanation of the legislature’s intent is entirely reasonable and certainly legitimate," Alito wrote. "Litigating districting cases is expensive and time consuming, and until the districts to be used in the next election are firmly established, a degree of uncertainty clouds the electoral process. Wishing to minimize these effects is understandable and proper."

The minority groups opposing the lines say the interim maps weren’t designed to resolve every legal issue and were based on discriminatory lines Texas drew after the 2010 U.S. Census.

In dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the ruling undercut the rights of racial minorities in the state.

"It means that, after years of litigation and undeniable proof of intentional discrimination, minority voters in Texas -- despite constituting a majority of the population within the state -- will continue to be underrepresented in the political process," Sotomayor wrote for the four dissenters.

The justices ruled against Texas on one state legislative district, saying it was an improper racial gerrymander.

The high court had previously reinstated the disputed maps while the justices considered whether to hear arguments. The maps have been used with small variations for the past three elections.

In the Texas congressional case, the lower court ordered the redrawing of districts held by at the time by Republican Blake Farenthold and Democrat Lloyd Doggett. Farenthold has since retired amid reports that he used taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment claim by a former staff member.

Texas gained four new congressional seats after the 2010 Census counted 4.3 million new Texans, almost 90 percent of whom were Hispanic or black. State lawmakers, however, drew no new districts favoring minority voters, a group that tends to choose Democratic candidates.

The cases are Abbott v. Perez, 17-586 (congressional map), and Abbott v. Perez, 17-626 (state legislative map).

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.