U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Texas Redistricting Case

According to the Houston Chronicle, the U.S. Supreme Court has granted Texas state Attorney General Greg Abbott a stay late Friday in the implementation of a court order redistricting scheme pending a hearing to take place in January.

The order effectively freezes candidate filings for state and federal offices as no one knows how the final district lines will be drawn. The Texas primary will be delayed from March to May because of the ruling.

What precipitated the redistricting controversy?

Every 10 years states must redraw their district maps for the legislature and the U.S. House to reflect changes in population as reported by the census. The Texas legislature, dominated by Republicans, duly redrew the maps to favor the GOP, adding seats for its party, subtracting seats held by Democrats.

However, under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Texas must get final approval for redrawn districts to ensure it is not discriminatory to minority voters. The Obama Justice Department rejected the redistricting map, claiming the redrawn districts were discriminatory, according to the San Antonio Express-News. A number of groups as well as individual Democratic lawmakers sued in federal court, claiming discrimination.

A three-judge panel in San Antonio agreed, according to the Associated Press, and issued its own interim redistricting map which it said favored minority voters and candidates. The court ordered map was to remain in place pending litigation in federal court.

What is the objection of Attorney General Abbott?

Besides the fact the redrawn map tends to favor Democrats, adding seats that party is likely to gain in the legislature and the U.S. House next year, Abbott claimed the court's action overstepped its bounds by overruling the Texas Legislature and subverted the popular will of the people, according to the Associated Press.

What happens now?

With the Supreme Court ruling late Friday, everything is in limbo pending a final decision concerning the Texas redistricting effort. The fact the court has agreed to hear the case should not be seen as an indication of what direction it may take. It could approve the legislature map, the map drawn by the San Antonio court, or even draw up its own map.

At stake will be the makeup of the Texas legislature and the Texas delegation to the U.S. House, The map drawn by the San Antonio court would actually add Democratic seats to both the legislature and the House, diluting Republican control according to the Houston Chronicle. In the end the matter is less about minority representation and more about partisan, political power.

Texas resident Mark Whittington writes about state issues for the Yahoo! Contributor Network.