Don’t expect new voting district boundaries to be drawn in time for the mid-term elections, despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s agreement Monday to consider the constitutionality of extreme partisan redistricting—and despite a quickly approaching trial on the drawing of congressional maps in Texas.
“Someone would have to file a case today and I don’t think that’s going to happen. The court is not going to be able to rule early enough to have an effect,” said Tom Wolf of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, who focuses on redistricting issues and represents the civil rights plaintiffs in the pending Texas redistricting case.
The Supreme Court agreed to hear the Wisconsin case—Gill v. Whitford—in which plaintiffs have alleged that extreme partisan redistricting is unconstitutional. The high court has never ruled directly on that argument to challenge redistricting maps.
In the Texas case, Perez v. Abbott, plaintiffs are arguing that congressional maps need to be redrawn because state lawmakers knowingly discriminated against minority voters when they drew them.
In March, a panel of three federal judges in San Antonio agreed with the Texas plaintiffs’ arguments, but they have yet to rule if the maps must be redrawn as a result. One of the judges, however, strenuously dissented.
The Office of the Texas Attorney General has argued that since the maps at issue, drawn in 2011, were replaced in 2013, no further redrawing of voting district lines is necessary.
But the Texas civil rights plaintiffs claim that the 2013 redrawn maps failed to correct the biases.
The panel in San Antonio agreed in May to hold a five-day bench trial beginning July 10.
If the plaintiffs prevail, they will likely gain two extra congressional seats to accommodate the population growth that has occurred in Latino and African-American communities.
Overall, the Supreme Court’s decision to hear the Wisconsin case will likely help Texas civil rights plaintiffs seeking redistricting reforms, Wolf said.
“This was at the very least not a damaging outcome,” he said about the high court granting a hearing in Gill.
Since the court has never ruled directly on the argument that extreme partisanship is unconstitutional, if the justices do set parameters on that basis, reformers in states like Texas and North Carolina will have a new tool to restrict gerrymandering, he said.