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Texas Redistricting in the Hands of the Supreme Court Yet Again

by Lindsey Needham // Published January 9, 2012

Texas redistricting has been one of the most contentious in the nation in recent decades. Plans drawn in the 1990s and 2000s went to the Supreme Court, including a 2006 challenge that required redrawing of some districts. In 2003, a battle over district lines led Democratic lawmakers to flee the state in an attempt to avoid a mid-decennial redrawing of districts by newly empowered Republican legislators, who began constructing a map with then-House Majority Leader Tom Delay and Gov. Rick Perry. With congressional redistricting required after the 2010 Census, Texas has redrawn district lines -- and yet again is before the Supreme Court.

Today, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments for three cases pertaining to Texas redistricting: Perry v. Perez, on the Texas House of Representatives; Perry v. Davis, on the Texas Senate; and Perry v. Perez, on the U.S. House seats.

At issue, the Supreme Court will decide whether a federal court has the power to impose redistricting maps on a state whose plans have not yet obtained preclearance required by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Under Section 5 of the Act, Texas' redistricting plan must be cleared by the Department of Justice or by a three-judge district court in Washington, DC. Texas pursued the latter option, but the San Antonio District Court, apparently anticipating that the Texas plan might not be precleared, drew new maps for the 2012 elections that gave racial minorities more opportunities to elect candidates of choice.

Due to congressional reapportionment and the state's rapid population growth over the past decade, mostly driven by a booming growth in Latinos, Texas gained four U.S. House seats. Republicans, who control both the state legislature and the governorship in Texas, have been accused of aggressively drawing up a gerrymandered plan that increases representation for their party at the expense of representation for racial minority groups - indeed, the new congressional plan created just one new opportunity for Latino voters to elect candidates of choice.

As the Supreme Court prepares to weigh in, we must evaluate alternatives to this clearly inadequate process. Redistricting in winner-take-all, single-member districts inherently leads mapmakers to put partisan considerations ahead of voting rights. Fair voting plans, in contrast, utilize American forms of proportional representation in larger "super-districts" and achieve accurate representation of a state's partisan divide while empowering communities of racial minorities to elect preferred candidates.

We're drawing an alternative Texas plan right now that will underscore our point: you can balance competing goals best by simply putting voters first. For the moment, you can see an example of fair voting by viewing our recent California plan as part of our fair voting series that will present alternative plans for the entire country.