By Cameron Langford/Courthouse News
(CN) – The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Friday to hear Texas’ appeal of a lower court ruling that ordered the state’s Republican leaders to redraw congressional and state House voting maps.
A three-judge panel in San Antonio federal court, led by Judge Xavier Rodriguez, ruled in August that Texas Republican lawmakers had discriminated against minority voters, who typically vote for Democrats, when they adopted voting maps in 2013.
The panel ordered the state to redraw nine Texas House of Representatives districts before the March 2018 primary elections, shortly after the same panel ordered the state to redraw two congressional districts.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton appealed both orders to the U.S. Supreme Court, which granted the state’s request to stay the rulings in September while it mulled Texas’ appeal.
The state has argued in legal briefs that deadlines for the primary elections, set for March 6, would descend into chaos if the Supreme Court forced it to comply with the redrawing orders.
Texas’ current voting maps, which Paxton has said were largely based on a map the same three-judge panel drew in 2012, were adopted by the Legislature in 2013 and have been used for the last three election cycles.
On Friday, the nation’s highest court agreed to hear the case. It did not comment on its decision and has yet to schedule oral arguments
Paxton said in a statement Friday he is eager to present his case to the Supreme Court because he believes the lower court is trying to undo its own work.
“The lower court’s decisions to invalidate parts of the maps it drew and adopted is inexplicable and indefensible,” Paxton said.
The disputed congressional districts are CD 27, which stretches from the Central Texas town of Lockhart to the coastal communities along the Gulf of Mexico, and CD 35, which runs from Austin to San Antonio in a narrow swath along Interstate Highway 35.
U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, represents CD 27, while CD 35 is represented by Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin.
Farenthold announced in December he will not run for a fifth term, after news broke that he had paid a former congressional staffer $84,000 of taxpayer money to settle a lawsuit in which the staffer claimed Farenthold had sexually harassed her before firing her.
The nine disputed Texas House districts are in four counties — Dallas, Nueces, Bell and Tarrant.
The Supreme Court’s decision will further draw out a legal battle that started in 2011 when several Hispanic Texas voters, represented by attorneys with the Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund, sued the state over its voting maps in San Antonio federal court.
The high court already has two other gerrymandering cases on its docket.
It heard an appeal in October of a three-judge panel’s ruling that Republicans in Wisconsin had gerrymandered districts, and it will also hear arguments that Maryland Democrats redrew state House districts to reclaim a seat held by a Republican.
Also on Friday, North Carolina Republicans appealed to the Supreme Court after a three-judge panel on Tuesday struck down the state’s congressional maps and said its districts need to be redrawn before the 2018 midterm elections.
The panel found North Carolina’s Republican-held Legislature had adopted a redistricting plan in 2016 that amounted to an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.