Basically, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the three-judge court in Texas to redraw congressional and legislative lines using Texas’s own plans as a starting point. The Court held that the three-judge court should deviate from Texas’s maps only if it is likely that parts of the maps violate the Voting Rights Act.
“On the contrary,” the opinion continued, “the state plan serves as a starting point for the district court. It provides important guidance that helps ensure that the district court appropriately confines itself to drawing interim maps that comply with the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act, without displacing legitimate state policy judgments with the court’s own preferences.”
SCOTUS — cited its 1996 decision in Lopez v. Monterey County — said that a District Court may not adopt “as its own” a state plan that needs Washington clearance but does not yet have it. However, the precedents “say nothing about whether a district court may take guidance from the lawful policies incorporated in such a plan for aid in drawing an interim map.” Turning then to its 1982 decision in Upham v. Seamon, the Court said that a district court has a duty to “defer to the unobjectionable aspects of a state’s plan” even in a situation where clearance was sought but had been denied.
The Justices flatly rejected the declaration of the San Antonio court that it was “not required to give any deference” to what the legislature had crafted. The lower court was wrong, the Court added, “to the extent” it “exceeded its mission to draw interim maps that do not violate the Constitution or the Voting Rights Act, and substituted its own concept of ‘the collective public good’ for the Texas legislature’s determination of which policies serve ‘the interests of the citizens of Texas.’ ”Further, the Court wrote, “because the District Court here had the benefit of a recently enacted plan to assist it, the court had neither the need nor the license to cast aside that vital aid.”
As far as Section 5, requiring some states and local governments to get Washington legal approval before they may put into effect any change in their election laws; Justice Thomas spoke for himself citing his belief that it is unconstitutional.
What does this mean? The opinion favors the state’s maps. This decision only affects the interim maps and this is not necessarily a defeat for the redistricting plaintiffs.
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