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Texas case suggests court may overhaul voting rights

Staff Report

Former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement told U.S. Supreme Court justices Monday that lower federal courts cannot redraw state-approved election district maps unless they can point to concrete “identifying specific statutory or constitutional violations.”

Instead, Clement said during oral arguments on Perry v. Perez, two federal district judges have nullified the will of the people in Texas. The evident frustration of at least some of the Supreme Court justices suggests they agree with Gov. Rick Perry that state sovereignty must be restored.

Clement represented Perry and the state of Texas in an appeal of lower court decisions throwing out new congressional and state legislative election districts earlier this year.

Like every state, Texas redrew its legislative lines after the 2010 census as the U.S. Constitution requires. Groups unhappy with the new maps then sued, alleging violations of the Voting Rights Act.

In Texas, a three-judge federal district court heard arguments that the new map violates Section 2 of the VRA, which makes it illegal for states to enact voting changes with the purpose or effect of reducing racial minorities’ voting strength.

The Lone Star State’s congressional delegation has grown from 32 members to 36, thanks to population growth. Texas thus needs a map with 36 congressional districts.

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The court held in a 2-1 decision that Texas’ new map violates Section 2. So the federal court drew its own maps for the people of Texas — assigning to them a completely different lineup of districts for the Texas legislature and Texas members of the U.S. House.

Supreme Court precedent makes clear that legislative redistricting is among the most delicate tasks state governments perform, balancing numerous political factors devoid of any legal principles courts can apply.

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