Voting Rights Act

Abbott v. Perez is odd and unusually complicated even for a racial gerrymandering case.

In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court upheld all but one of Texas’ 2013 congressional and state legislative districts. The Texas Legislature’s 2013 redistricting plan codified a Texas federal district court’s second attempt at redrawing the legislature’s 2011 plan. The Supreme Court concluded the lower court erred when it required the Texas Legislature to prove that it purged the racially discriminatory taint of the 2011 legislative-drawn plan.

In Abbott v. Perez a number of persons and advocacy groups challenged the Texas Legislature’s 2011 state legislative and congressional redistricting plan claiming it discriminated against black and Hispanic voters in violation of the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and the Voting Rights Act.

In 2011 a three-judge district court issued a remedial redistricting plan which the U.S. Supreme Court vacated in 2012. The district court then drew another remedial redistricting plan which the state legislature adopted in 2013.               

In this case the challengers claim that the plan as adopted by the state legislature still has the “taint of discriminatory intent” of the 2011 legislative plan. The district court agreed despite the fact that it is the author of 2013 plan. The Supreme Court heard oral argument in this case.

The same day Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced his plan to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census California filed a complaint seeking an injunction preventing the question from being added. The next day New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced he would lead a multi-state lawsuit challenging the question.

In December 2017 the Department of Justice (DOJ) requested that a question about citizenship be added to help DOJ more effectively enforce Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race in voting. Citizenship has not been asked about in the biennium census since 1950.

What if a district court adopts a redistricting plan and the state legislature later codifies that plan. May the same district court later rule the redistricting plan is unlawful and/or unconstitutional? That is what the Supreme Court will decide in Abbott v. Perez.

A number of persons and advocacy groups challenged the Texas Legislature’s 2011 state legislative and congressional redistricting plan claiming it discriminated against black and Hispanic voters in violation of the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and the Voting Rights Act.

A three-judge district court issued a remedial redistricting plan which the U.S. Supreme Court vacated in 2012. The district court then drew another remedial redistricting plan called plan C235. In plan C235 the court reconfigured nine challenged districts from the legislature’s 2011 plan but retained two districts, CD27 and CD35, without reconfiguration. In 2013 the state legislature ultimately adopted plan C235.        

Cooper v. Harris raises an issue litigated over and over since the 2010 census. Challengers claim the North Carolina legislature unconstitutionally packed minority voters into a few legislative districts to lessen their ability to influence races in other districts. The Supreme Court agreed holding 5-3 that a North Carolina District Court correctly ruled that North Carolina relied too heavily on race in designing two majority-minority congressional districts.

The Supreme Court has held that per the Equal Protection Clause if the use of race predominates in redistricting the district’s design must be “narrowly tailored” to serve a “compelling interest.” Complying with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which prohibits vote dilution— “dispersal of [a group’s members] into districts in which they constitute an ineffective minority of voters”—is a compelling interest. A “strong basis in evidence” is needed to show the VRA requires race-based districting.  

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