Texas’ congressional and state house maps will be valid for at least two more elections after the U.S. Supreme Court dispensed with claims lawmakers intentionally discriminated against minority voters in drafting them.
In a 5-4 vote, the Court vacated a lower court ruling that placed Texas’ maps in jeopardy for the second time this decade—arguing the evidence was “plainly insufficient” to prove that the 2013 Texas Legislature’s decision to largely embrace court-drawn maps amounted intentional discrimination.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton praised the court’s decision as a victory in a statement.
“I’m grateful that the U.S. Supreme Court restored the rule of law to the redistricting process. 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,” said Paxton.
This decision comes on the heels of a Supreme Court opinion refusing to strike down maps on the grounds that they were gerrymandered on a partisan basis. The court upheld all but one of the districts in the 2013 maps, which were largely based on interim court-drawn maps created for the 2012 elections.
That one exception? Fort Worth-based Texas House District 90, which the court found was illegally redistricted along racial lines.
Currently held by Hispanic Democrat State Rep. Ramon Romero, House District 90 was at the time of the map’s approval held by White Democrat Lon Burnham.
After narrowly fending off a 2012 primary challenge by Carlos Vasquez by 159 votes, Burnham wanted to insulate himself against a Hispanic primary opponent. His solution was to reintroduce the predominantly black community of Como—whose voters had been loyal to him in previous elections— into his district, but that ran afoul of the legislature’s decision to create a Hispanic opportunity district in HD 90 in order to comply with the Voting Rights Act.
In order to add Como back to HD 90 while keeping the portion of Hispanics higher than 50 percent, map drawers in the House, including then-Redistricting Chairman State Rep. Drew Darby (R–San Angelo) decided to add Hispanic voters and remove white voters from HD 90.
While successful legislatively in amending the map, Burnham was not successful electorally in his re-election campaign. Indeed, Burnham was defeated in the next election by Romero, by 110 votes. Burnham has alleged his loss can be attributed to voter fraud, but the racial composition of the district certainly played a role as well.
The Supreme Court remanded District 90 back to the district court to decide what, if anything, ought to be done with it at this point. It is possible the district will not be changed.
The Court’s decision protects Texas’ current electoral maps and, more importantly, reduces the chances that Texas will be “bailed-in” to mandatory pre-clearance review of its election law changes. Some legal scholars had speculated that the federal courts might place future Texas districting plans and other election law changes under automatic court review based on the finding that Texas engaged in unlawful racial discrimination in drawing its maps in 2013. That is less likely now.
“This is a huge win for the Constitution, Texas, and the democratic process. Once again, Texans have the power to govern themselves,” said Paxton.