Federal judges hearing a lawsuit over election redistricting in Texas exceeded their authority when they jettisoned maps that had been approved by the state Legislature and replaced them with maps of their own.
In an unsigned unanimous opinion on Friday, the US Supreme Court said a three-judge panel in San Antonio should have deferred to legislatively-drawn maps whenever possible and only departed from the enacted maps when necessary to avoid a likely violation of the Voting Rights Act or the Constitution.
The dispute is significant because how election maps are drawn can impact who is elected and which political party prevails. With four new congressional districts in Texas, those and other newly drawn could play a key role in which party controls Congress next year.
The Republican-controlled Legislature’s maps were challenged by minority rights advocates and others who said they were drawn so as to minimize the likelihood of minority candidates being elected.
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The high court said the federal judges in Texas were wrong to award themselves the power to draft new election districts and to base their effort on their own conception of what is best for Texas voters.
Setting the boundaries for congressional and other districts is a political task best left, as much as possible, to elected political leaders, the court said.
“To the extend the District Court exceeded its mission to draw interim maps that do not violate the Constitution or the Voting Rights Act, and substituted its own concept of ‘the collective public good’ for the Texas Legislature’s determination of which policies serve ‘the interests of the citizens of Texas,’ the court erred,” the justices wrote.
“Because the District Court here had the benefit of a recently enacted plan to assist it, the court had neither the need nor the license to cast aside that vital aid,” the justices said.