Before 45 days pass in the next legislative session, Texas lawmakers must begin fixing discriminatory issues with the way in which North Texas' House District 90 was drawn.
In a brief order, a three-judge panel based in San Antonio told lawmakers they needed to address racial gerrymandering violations in the district — the only exception the U.S. Supreme Court made when it signed off on the state's embattled political maps earlier this year. HD-90, which is occupied by Democratic state Rep. Ramon Romero, was deemed an impermissible racial gerrymander because lawmakers illegally used race as the predominant factor in deciding its boundaries.
Opponents of the state's maps had previously indicated to the court that they wanted to revert the district to its 2011 version, a suggestion the state said it opposed and that the panel said it disagreed with.
On Thursday, the panel ordered lawmakers to redraw the district — either in a 2018 special legislative session that would need to be called by the governor or at the start of the 2019 legislative session. If a proposal isn't introduced within the first month and half of the session, the judges said they would undertake the "unwelcome obligation" of fixing the district.
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Despite the loss voters of color, civil rights groups and Democratic lawmakers were dealt by the Supreme Court, the San Antonio panel also set the stage for an upcoming legal fight to force Texas back under federal oversight of its election laws. That possibility was raised after several courts handed down several findings of intentional discrimination at the hands of state lawmakers who in 2011 first embarked on redrawing the state's maps.
In clearing the current maps, the Supreme Court wiped out a ruling of intentional discrimination against lawmakers for adopting those boundaries in 2013. But plaintiffs told the court on Wednesday that they believed the issue wasn't settled because of previous findings of intentional discrimination from the 2011 map drawing. Those findings are crucial to convincing the courts that Texas should be obligated to get federal approval of changes to its elections laws — a safeguard for voters of color known as preclearance.
On Thursday, the panel ordered opponents of the maps and attorneys for the state to file their arguments to the court, with briefing expected to wrap up in mid-January.