Supreme Court decision likely means Texas’ 2018 elections will use district maps a federal court ruled are illegal

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Supreme Court will allow Texas to hold its 2018 elections under maps that a federal court has determined are illegal. The justices voted 5-4 to put a stay on a lower court ruling that ordered Texas to address the issues with the maps.

In August, a panel of three federal judges in San Antonio ruled that two of the state’s congressional districts and nine of the state’s house districts were drawn to dilute the voting power of minorities. In some cases, the court says, the district lines were moved around to ensure that minority candidates did not take control of legislative seats from white incumbents. The judges ordered Texas to either redraw its maps or let the federal court itself fix them.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton chose a third option. He appealed the case to the Supreme Court and was granted a stay while the justices evaluate the lower court’s ruling. The decision essentially clears the path for Texas to use its existing district lines for the 2018 election while the Supreme Court hears the case. The Texas Election Commission says it needs everything in place by October in order to meet certain election deadlines. So even if the Supreme Court upholds the lower court’s decision before election day, there won’t be time to redraw the districts unless the court also delays the elections.

Paul Clement, an attorney for the state of Texas, argued that allowing the state to use the existing district maps wouldn’t cause any harm. He says, “if the plaintiffs ultimately prevail before this court on appeal, a new map could still be drawn in time for the 2020 elections.” However, if that turns out to be the case then Texas will have conducted 4 out of the 5 elections in this census cycle under illegally-drawn districts. Texas would then have to redraw the map for the 2020 election and redraw it again after the 2020 Census for the 2022 election.

The Supreme Court’s stay was made possible by Senate Republicans. The vote fell along ideological lines with the courts 5 conservative justices, including Trump nominee Neil Gorsuch, voting in favor of the stay and the court’s 4 liberal justices voting to deny it. Gorsuch would not have become the ninth justice on the Supreme Court if Senate Republicans didn’t hold up the confirmation of Obama Supreme Court Justice nominee Merrick Garland in hopes that a Republican won the presidency in 2016.

Gorsuch as a Supreme Court justice makes it clear that elections have consequences. So it’s disappointing to see that the consequences of Texas’ 2018 elections could be made on the back of illegally-drawn maps.