A small but ominous victory for gerrymandered maps.
AUG 29, 2017, 10:15 AM
Earlier this month, a panel of three federal judges held that two Texas congressional districts are illegal gerrymanders — one because it was intentionally drawn to dilute Hispanic votes and the other because it was drawn with too much reliance on race. That decision, which followed many years of litigation, will soon run headlong into a Supreme Court that has very little love for voting rights.
In a warning about what could very easily happen next, Justice Samuel Alito issued a one-page order Monday night temporarily suspending the panel’s decision. (Justices ordinarily refer matters like this to the full Court before taking action — but Alito supervises decisions arising out of the Fifth Circuit, which includes Texas, and Circuit Justices do have the power to issue such orders on their own initiative.)
It’s easy to read too much into Alito’s order, which can be contexualized by several factors. For one, the panel’s decision imposed tight deadlines on the state of Texas that the state stridently objected to in an emergency application. For another, it’s August, when the justices typically disperse all across the globe during the Court’s summer vacation. Alito likely acted on his own to preserve the status quo until the other members of his Court have enough time to consider Texas’ request.
But while Alito’s order isn’t itself a terribly big deal, the Texas gerrymandering case’s arrival on the Supreme Court’s docket is.
In a clear sign that powerful conservative interests care a great deal about preserving Texas’ existing congressional map, Texas’ application for a stay is signed by Paul Clement — the conservative superlawyer and de facto Solicitor General of the Republican Party. There is a good chance that these interests will receive a sympathetic hearing from the Republican-controlled Supreme Court.