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Texas Redistricting Plan Tossed Out By Supreme Court

A plan for how to redraw Texas' congressional and state legislative districts that was put together by a three-judge federal court in San Antonio was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court this morning because, the justices ruled, the lower court should not have disregarded the Texas state legislature's wishes and should not have stepped into that legislature's shoes.

In an 11-page "per curiam" opinion that does not say how the nine justices voted but instead speaks on behalf of the full court, the judges in Texas are basically told to come up with new district lines and not to ignore the Republican-controlled legislature's maps when doing so.

Time is of the essence. Texas' 32-member House delegation is set to expand to 36 because of the state's population growth — much of it Hispanic. SCOTUSBlog points out that there is a "Feb. 1 deadline for creation of new maps." Texas holds its primaries on April 3.

As NPR's Nina Totenberg has reported, the GOP-controlled Texas legislature drew up House maps that likely would have resulted in three of the four new districts going to Republicans. Critics went to court to stop it, saying the lines discriminated against minorities. The Justice Department, now run by the Democratic Obama administration, also weighed in against the legislature's plan, NPR's Carrie Johnson tells us.

The plan the three-judge panel in San Antonio came up with likely would give three of the four new districts to Democrats.

Federal approval of Texas' plans is necessary, as Nina has reported, because "states like Texas, with a demonstrated history of racial and ethnic discrimination," are required by the Voting Rights Act to "get pre-clearance before putting into effect a new redistricting plan."

Still, in its ruling today the Supreme Court writes that "redistricting is 'primarily the duty and responsibility of the State,' " citing a 1975 opinion. "The failure of a State's newly enacted plan to gain pre-clearance prior to an upcoming election does not, by itself, require a court to take up the state legislature's task."

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Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.