On June 25, 2018, the Supreme Court in Abbott v. Perez overturned the lower court’s finding that the Texas legislature had gerrymandered legislative districts against Hispanic citizens when redrawing occurred in 2013 after the lower courts struck down the districts drawn in 2011. The Court ruled that the district court “disregarded the presumption of good faith and improperly reversed the burden of proof when it required the state to show a lack of discriminatory intent in adopting new districting plans.”
The Court did find, however, that Texas House District 90 was an “impermissible gerrymander” since it was made to manipulate the percentage of Hispanic and African-American voters. Justice Alito wrote: “Texas argues that its use of race as the predominant factor in HD90’s design was permissible because it had good reasons to believe that this was necessary to satisfy Bethune-Hill. But it is the State’s burden to prove narrow tailoring, and Texas did not do so on the record here.” The court remanded the case to the lower court to correct the racial gerrymandering done to House District 90.
The dissent wrote: “After many years of litigation and undeniable proof of intentional discrimination, minority voters in Texas — despite constituting a majority of the population with the state — will continue to be unrepresented in the political process. Those voters must return to the polls in 2018 and 2020 with the knowledge that their ability to exercise meaningfully their right to vote has been burdened by the manipulation of district lines specifically designed to target their communities and minimize their political will.”
The ruling in Perez shows how the Court will address racial gerrymandering, but is unwilling to take the case when gerrymandering affects members of one party. This was seen in the Gill and Benisek decisions the Court made the week prior to Perez. The reason is that in the Voting Rights Act, minority votes cannot be diluted when redrawing legislative maps and the Court has upheld this section of the Voting Rights Act in previous cases.
When redrawing districts, state legislatures, and not the judicial branch of state and federal government, need to draw districts in an efficient way that does not disenfranchise any voter, regardless of race or political affiliation, and as the Supreme Court reiterated today, state legislatures have a presumption of good faith for their efforts when challenged. The decisions on redistricting during this year’s session of the Supreme Court show that the Court is unwilling to redraw district lines and that state legislatures still have to find a way to draw districts that are truly representative of the population within them.