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SCOTUS hears redistricting arguments today

Today is a big effin’ deal at the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court will attempt on Monday to untangle the political mess in Texas created by a voting rights controversy.

The case could have important political consequences, and highlights a lurking issue regarding the continued viability of a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, the landmark legislation passed in 1965 to protect minorities from discriminatory voting practices.


In court papers, Paul D. Clement, an attorney representing Texas, argued that the Texas court improperly ordered “sweeping changes” to the legislature-enacted maps and “made numerous highly controversial policy judgments.”

“Even though the vast majority of districts for the Texas House had not even been challenged by DOJ in the preclearance proceeding or by the plaintiffs in this case, the majority’s interim plan redrew the boundaries of 128 of the 150 House districts,” Clement wrote.

He argued that the Supreme Court should allow the maps drawn by the legislature, not those drawn by the Texas court, to be used temporarily in the upcoming election while the preclearance procedure runs its course.

The Obama administration disagreed. It argued that if the Supreme Court were to allow even the temporary use of the legislature-drawn maps it would undermine Section 5’s mandate that requires the state to obtain preclearance before enforcing voting changes.

Stanford Law School professor Pamela S. Karlan, who serves as counsel for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, agreed, saying, “To allow an unprecleared plan to go in effect when it has been challenged long before an election cycle would be a major retreat from the way Section 5 has operated until now.”

You can read a fuller version of Professor Karlan’s argument at Texas Politics. As PDiddie put it, this essentially boils down to whether or not “Anthony Kennedy has changed his mind 180 degrees from Clark v. Roemer twenty years ago”.

Texas Redistricting has all the briefs, with links to analysis and news coverage. He also notes that there’s action going on in the DC preclearance case, but surely you don’t need me to tell you to follow Texas Redistricting by now, do you?

The backdrop of all this is Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Rick Hasen sums up what’s at stake.

Though Texas only implicitly challenges that section, several direct attacks to the constitutionality of Section 5 are simmering, including one from Shelby County, Ala., to be heard by a federal court this month.

At the Supreme Court, the looming constitutional question “will be the 800-pound gorilla in the room,” says Professor Richard Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California-Irvine. Hasen observes that because of other cases in the pipeline, the justices are likely to “sooner rather than later” rule on the constitutionality of Section 5’s pre-clearance rule.

Of course, we don’t know how soon they’ll rule, let alone the scope of their ruling, but until they do everything from the date of the primary to the printing of voter registration cards remains in limbo. So yeah, today is a big day.

UPDATE: Michael Li comes through with a great overview of the case and its issues.

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