As a result of the 2010 census, Texas picked up four additional Congressional districts, four House of Representatives seats in the Federal Congress. Pursuant to this, the Texas legislature redrew the existing district map to create those four additional districts.
Of course, someone’s ox is going to be gored by such a remapping, and Texas was sued in Federal court as some groups were unhappy that they hadn’t been favored enough by the new map.
Here’s where it gets interesting. The primary reason the Federal government has any say at all over how a State sets is Congressional districts is carried in the Voting Rights Act of 1965: this law gives the Federal government, in the form of its Federal courts, the authority to approve or disapprove Congressional district maps of certain enumerated States before those maps can take effect, and Texas is one of those enumerated. However, and this is key, the purpose of that prior approval requirement is to prevent racial gerrymandering.
The District Court for the District of Columbia rejected the Texas Legislature-drawn district map and sent the case to the District Court for the San Antonio Division of the federal court system for trial. The San Antonio federal court then proceeded to draw its own district map, which is far out of the jurisdiction of the Federal courts. This drew, correctly, a sharp reaction from Texas’ Attorney General Greg Abbott as he announced his emergency appeal to the Supreme Court to stay this Federal intrusion into a State’s internal affairs.
A court’s job is to apply the law, not to make policy. A federal court lacks constitutional authority to interfere with the expressed will of the state Legislature unless it is compelled to remedy a specific, identifiable violation of law.
Beyond this, though, is what the San Antonio District Court did with its map. The court’s own map would ensure minorities made up the majority in three of the additional four districts. This is exactly the racial gerrymandering to which the Voting Rights Act authorized the Federal courts to object.
Even larger, though, is this: either we’re all Americans, each of whose vote is as valuable as the others’, or we’re not, and government-favored groups get louder, stronger votes than those disfavored by government. It’s plain where one Federal judge’s sentiments lie.