WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday blocked rulings from a federal court in Texas that had called for revisions to congressional and state legislative districts in the state after the court found that the districts violated the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act.
The Supreme Court’s brief order, in a long-running dispute over legislative maps drawn after the 2010 census, made it more likely that the 2018 election will be held using maps rejected by a three-judge panel of the Federal District Court for the Western District of Texas, in San Antonio. The Supreme Court’s order will remain in place while it considers the state’s appeal.
The vote was 5 to 4 and divided along ideological lines, with the court’s more conservative members in the majority.
The court in San Antonio had ruled that a congressional district including Corpus Christi denied Hispanic voters “their opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice.” The court rejected a second congressional district stretching from San Antonio to Austin, saying that race had been the primary factor in drawing it.
In a separate decision, the court found similar flaws in several state legislative districts.
There was an odd wrinkle in the case: the Texas court itself had for the most part endorsed the maps in 2012, after the Supreme Court rejected earlier ones and told the court to try again. The 2012 maps, the panel later said, had been considered in haste in advance of pending elections. In 2013, the Texas Legislature decided not to draw new maps and instead mostly adopted the one drawn by the court in San Antonio.
In August, after three election cycles using the interim maps, the court ruled that they were flawed. “Although this court had ‘approved’ the maps for use as interim maps, given the severe time constraints it was operating under at the time of their adoption,” the court said, that approval was “not based on a full examination of the record or the governing law” and was “subject to revision.”
The court concluded that Texas’s adoption of the interim maps was part of “a litigation strategy designed to insulate the 2011 or 2013 plans from further challenge, regardless of their legal infirmities.”
State officials then filed emergency applications in the Supreme Court, asking the justices to block the district court’s order until their appeal was heard.
“The same map the three-judge court thought sufficient to comply with the Constitution and” the Voting Rights Act “when adopted by the court as a remedial map has now been declared unconstitutional when subsequently enacted into law by the branch of government responsible for redistricting under our Constitution,” state officials wrote in their application concerning the congressional districts. “That is both remarkable and unprecedented.”
“If repealing a purportedly discriminatory law in its entirety and replacing it with a law that has received the imprimatur of a federal court does not suffice to remove any lingering ‘taint’” from the 2011 maps, the brief said,“then it is difficult to imagine what could.”
The state said it must have maps in place by Oct. 1 to allow the 2018 elections to proceed as scheduled. The challengers said that deadline was self-imposed and premature.
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. had granted temporary stays while the full court considered the stay application.