SUPREME COURT NOTEBOOK: High court halts new Texas electoral maps

By Mark Sherman

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court has blocked the use of Texas state legislative and congressional district maps that were drawn by federal judges to boost minorities' voting power.

The court issued a brief order last Friday that applies to electoral maps drawn by federal judges in San Antonio for the Texas Legislature and Congress. The justices said they will hear arguments in the case on Jan. 9.

Texas says the federal judges overstepped their authority and should have taken into account the electoral maps that were drawn by the Republican-dominated Texas Legislature.

The order brings to a halt filing for legislative and congressional primary elections that began Nov. 28.

The primaries had been scheduled to take place in March but with the Supreme Court's intervention, those elections almost certainly will be delayed.

The maps issued by the judges appeared to give Democrats a greater chance of winning seats in the state House and Senate than did the plans approved by those bodies and signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry.

In addition, the court-drawn congressional map ensured minorities made up the majority in three additional Texas congressional districts, an outcome the judges said better reflected the growth in the state's Hispanic population.

Texas is adding four U.S. House seats based on population gains in the 2010 census.

The fight over redistricting in Texas is playing out in two separate court cases.

Like other states with a history of racial discrimination, Texas can't implement new maps or other changes to voting practices without federal approval under the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The state asked a court in Washington to sign off on the maps, but those judges refused. That case is continuing.

Separately, an array of rights groups filed the Texas lawsuit claiming that the state's maps decreased minorities' voting power.

The federal judges in Texas reasoned that the state would be unable to hold elections without temporary maps that take account of census results.

The legal issue at the high court is whether the temporary maps should have used the state-approved plans as a starting point. The case so far does not appear to raise the broader issue of whether Texas and other states should still be subject to the voting rights law.

Published: Tue, Dec 13, 2011