The Supreme Court announced Friday that it plans to hear a significant voting rights case, agreeing to review a lower court opinion that invalidated congressional and statehouse maps in Texas.
The order adds another case touching on voting disputes to the court's docket at a time when the justices are already considering cases concerning partisan gerrymandering and the purge of voter rolls in Ohio.
The justices have already indicated they might be split down ideological lines in the case because last fall they voted 5-4 to freeze the lower court opinion until they decided whether to take up the case.
Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented from that order. As things stand, the Supreme Court's order means that the current maps will probably be used in the 2018 election, but no final determination has been made.
The case highlights a dispute that has been embroiled in the courts for almost a decade.
After the last census, voting rights groups such as the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund challenged maps drawn in 2011 by the republican led legislature. A court struck down the maps finding that they were enacted with a discriminatory purpose and ordered new interim maps to be drawn. The legislation subsequently enacted the new maps -- called Plan C235 -- into law while the litigation continued.
After a trial in 2017, the district Court then invalidated two districts of Plan C235 holding that one was enacted with discriminatory intent and the other contained was an impermissible racial gerrymander. The Court noted that "specific portions" of the 2011 plans that were found to be discriminatory or unconstitutional "continue unchanged." In a similar case the court also invalidated eight state legislative districts.
"The discriminatory taint was not removed by the Legislature's enactment of the court's interim plans, because the Legislature engaged in no deliberative process to remove any such taint, and in fact intended any such taint to be maintained but be safe from remedy," wrote United States District Judge Xavier Rodriguez of the Western District of Texas.
Lawyers for Texas criticized the lower court opinion arguing that the maps should stand, particularly since they were adopted with the guidance of the district court.
"Five years and three election cycles after ordering Texas to use the map known as Plan C235, that very same court has now held that the Legislature engaged in intentional discrimination and racial gerrymandering when it enacted legislation adopting Plan C235 as its own," Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton argued in court papers. He said that Plan C235 that has been in place for half a decade "can hardly now be so offensive to the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution that it must be wiped from the books immediately, before the State can even pursue a direct appeal."
The court did not say when it will hear the case.