Late Friday afternoon the US Supreme Court issued a stay against the legislative and congressional maps drawn by a three-judge federal panel based in San Antonio. This action marks a big win by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott against a new low in judicial activism. It also puts the 2012 primary election calendar in flux.
By issuing the stay against maps drawn by the federal judges, the Supreme Court clearly finds Mr. Abbott’s arguments persuasive and deserving of review. Mr. Abbott has argued that the maps were an overreach of the court’s authority. Frankly, and with all due respect to our attorney general, that might be an understatement.
While the state legislatures are charged with drawing the political boundaries of legislative and congressional districts based on census numbers, the 1964 Voting Rights Act placed several states, including Texas, under additional federal review to ensure the protection of minorities from past patterns of discrimination. Courts have, in the years since, made varying changes to correct certain, specific deficiencies in the maps crafted by the legislature.
In a statement Friday evening, Mr. Abbott said he “is committed to protecting the integrity of Texas’ elections by ensuring they are conducted based on legally constructed redistricting maps, and the Supreme Court’s decision today is an important step in that direction.”
When lawmakers met this spring, they took on the task of redrawing lines in keeping with the population. Yet they might as well have adopted a 1987 road map of Texas, for all the three-judge panel cared. The judges touched districts seemingly without regard to common sense, instead creating a map only Democratic partisans could (and did) cheer. Talk about judicial activism!
Mr. Abbott and the legislative leadership – including House Speaker Joe Straus – should be roundly applauded for standing against this federal intrusion by the three-judge panel. Liberal media apologists discounted the possibility of a stay; but the overreach by their friends clearly has prompted the Supreme Court to take a most unusual step.
Remember, the federal judges’ maps all but disenfranchised Texas voters by ignoring their will as expressed through the 2010 general election ballot box. Voters sent an historic conservative super-majority to the state House, which was apparently unimportant to the court’s majority. They ignored voters who tossed out liberal incumbents of various ethnic backgrounds in favor of conservative challengers of various ethnic backgrounds.
As evidenced by the (apparently inconvenient) results of the 2010 election, the voters have Texas have truly been looking past the color of candidates skin and into the content of their philosophical and ideological character. That’s apparently a terrifying prospect for liberals in a conservative state, so they counted on the courts to dictate election results through gerrymandered districts.
Looking ahead, we don’t know what this stay means for the primary election calendar. With the real possibility of new lines, that means some folks currently running won’t be eligible, and those currently not running might suddenly find new life. Incumbents paired by the court might find themselves now without a fellow incumbent against them. Voters whose districts were radically shifted into new territories may find more familiar ground.
Until the Supreme Court has a hearing on the issue in early January, we’ll all be stumbling in the dark.
Some will, no doubt, decry the real possibility of the primary elections for the legislature and US House being delayed. (The 2012 presidential, US Senate, statewide and local primaries could still be held March 6.)
Frankly, it is better for the legislative and congressional primaries to be delayed so we have legal and fair lines, than to have them on time with unfair, improper, judicially gerrymandered lines.
Federal judges shouldn’t be allowed to engineer maps to suit the whims of disgruntled partisans unable to win at the ballot box. Texas voters deserve to have their voices heard, lest we do irreparable damage to our form of government.