The U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday it was taking up a case from Wisconsin on partisan gerrymandering — the first time in more than a decade the court will consider the constitutionality of redrawing political maps based on partisanship. What could the move mean for Texas, which is in the middle of its own legal fight over redistricting maps?
Here’s what you need to know:
What happened in Wisconsin? A federal appeals court ruled the state drew district lines benefitting Republicans that were so partisan that they violated the U.S. Constitution. Depending on the ruling, up to seven states’ congressional maps could be affected — including Texas, according to Michael Li, redistricting and voting counsel at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice.
Texas has its own redistricting case, too. In March, a panel of judges ruled that three of the state’s 36 congressional districts were illegally drawn. That same panel of judges then took issue with the Texas map of state house districts, which they said intentionally discriminated against minorities statewide and in particular districts, a month later. If the state loses the case, Texas could find itself with new political maps ahead of the 2018 elections. The trial on both maps is set to begin in July.
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But the cases are very different: The Wisconsin case revolves around whether partisanship played too large a role into redistricting, while the Texas case focuses on race. In fact, part of Texas’ argument claims redistricting was indeed based on partisanship — something courts have allowed in the past. “A rule against partisan gerrymandering will have a major impact for communities of color, where partisanship unfortunately has often been used as an excuse for actions that hurt minorities,” Li said in a statement.
What’s next? It’s unclear if the Wisconsin case, which the U.S Supreme Court is set to consider in its term that begins in November, could affect the pending case in Texas, because of the different timelines and arguments being made. And the justices must also decide whether they even have the jurisdiction to rule in the Wisconsin case, a question they left open in accepting the case. But the high court could ultimately establish a new limit on the role politics plays into redistricting. If that were to occur, it would almost certainly affect map drawing in Texas going forward and give opponents of the current Texas’ maps a new avenue to challenge them.
How Texans are reacting: The state’s top Republican leadership — Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton — all played a role in the state’s last round of redistricting, but none had weighed in on the U.S Supreme Court's announcement as of midday Monday.
State Rep. Rafael Anchia, a Dallas Democrat and chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus in the Texas House, tweeted that the caucus would keep an eye on the Wisconsin case closely as the Texas trial begins next month.
Reporters Jim Malewitz and Alexa Ura contributed to this report.
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