Supreme Court Freezes Texas Elections

In a late Friday afternoon order, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the use of court-drawn maps for legislative and congressional districts in Texas, telling the lawyers involved to be ready for oral arguments next month.

The state asked the court for a stay on maps for congressional, Texas House and Texas Senate maps. The court's order asks for briefs from the lawyers by Dec. 21, replies by Jan. 3, and sets the cases for oral arguments on Jan. 9. 

Candidates are already filing for office, working against a Dec. 15 deadline. That's next Thursday. Since the maps aren't set, the deadline will probably be meaningless, at least for the congressional and legislative candidates. That could change the candidates' calculations about who's running for what. A lousy district in the current map could be replaced with a better one, if the maps are redrawn after the Supreme Court rules.

In its request for a stay, the state suggested the congressional and legislative primaries could be delayed from March 6 to May 22. The other primaries — for president, U.S. Senate and so on — will remain in March. The court didn't rule on that request, leaving the primary dates alone for now.

Here's the court's order:

The applications for stay presented to Justice Scalia and by him referred to the Court are granted, and it is ordered that the orders issued by the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas on November 23, 2011, in case Nos. 5:11-CV-360, and 5:11-CV-788, and the order of November 26, 2011, in case No. 5:11-CV-360, are hereby stayed pending further order of the Court. In addition, the applications for stay are treated as jurisdictional statements, and in each case probable jurisdiction is noted. The cases are consolidated and a total of one hour is allotted for oral argument. The briefs of appellants and appellees, not to exceed 15,000 words, are to be filed simultaneously with the Clerk and served upon opposing counsel on or before 2 p.m., Wednesday, December 21, 2011. Reply briefs, not to exceed 15,000 words, are to be filed simultaneously with the Clerk and served upon opposing counsel on or before 2 p.m., Tuesday, January 3, 2012. The cases are set for oral argument on Monday, January 9, 2012, at 1 p.m.

And here's a statement from Texas Republican Party Chairman Steve Munisteri: 

"The Supreme Court's action in staying the recently drawn maps issued by the three-judge federal district court panel in San Antonio, is a clear indication that the concerns we raised last week concerning the panel's actions, have merit. It has been the RPT's position that the majority of the district court panel exceeded their judicial authority and attempted to usurp the rightful duties of the Texas State Legislature. It has also been our position that the maps approved by the Legislature did comply with the Voting Rights' Act and did protect the interests of minority voters, particularly the interests of Hispanic voters in Texas. I applaud Attorney General Greg Abbott and his legal team for their quick action in appealing this matter to the U.S. Supreme Court and congratulate them for winning the first round before that court in obtaining a stay on the panel's maps. We are hopeful that the Attorney General and his team will be able to demonstrate to the Court the necessity of throwing out the panel's maps. Further, we hope the Court will either restore the original district lines of the Legislature, or at the very least, make revisions to the district court panel's maps which are more in tune with the legislative intent. We do not have information at this time as to what effect, if any, the Court's stay will have on the filing period or primary dates. As soon as we receive further instruction from the Court, we will advise the public."

A statement from the Texas attorney general's office, which challenged the court-drawn maps on behalf of the state:

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court granted Texas' request for a stay of the interim redistricting plans imposed by a federal district court for the Texas Senate, Texas House of Representatives and U.S. House of Representatives. The Supreme Court's decision means that, for now, elections will not take place using the district court's interim redistricting plans pending a more thorough review by the High Court. The district court's interim redistricting plans wholly disregard the will of the Texas Legislature despite the fact that no court has found that the maps drawn by the Legislature violate any law.

Attorney General Abbott said: "The Texas Attorney General's Office 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. We look forward to presenting oral argument to the Supreme Court on January 9, 2012. We understand the need for speed for Texas voters as well as those who wish to run for office, and will work to resolve this matter as quickly as possible."

A statement from the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, which supported the court-drawn maps:

This evening MALC received notice that the State of Texas’ application for stay of the San Antonio Federal District Court’s interim maps had been granted by the U.S. Supreme Court, further the Court has set oral argument for January 9, 2012.

MALC Chairman Trey Martinez Fischer said, “We are deeply concerned about the potential disruption of the 2012 election schedule. While we do not agree on the merit of the State of Texas’ application for stay, we respect the Court’s decision to hear more argument from the litigants. Our resolve remains stronger than ever and our commitment to minority voting rights unwavering.  If there ever was a textbook case of Voting Rights Act violations, this is it. We look forward to making our case before the United States Supreme Court.”

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