Upon reading the transcript of the oral arguments made before the US Supreme Court, it is clear that the highest court in the land wants to wait for a pre-clearance determination that will be made by a three-judge panel in DC. Pre-clearance of legislatively drawn district maps is required under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The Act requires that either the US Department of Justice or a three-judge panel of the US District Court of D.C. approve changes to legislative districts in certain states that have had a history of institutionalized discriminatory voting practices. Texas is one of those states. The trial before the DC District Court will be heard next Tuesday, January 17.
I initially feared that the US Supreme Court had decided to hear this case as an early test of the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act. It seems that the Court is not touching that issue.
Timeline: Summer Primary?
Given that the Democratic and Republican Primaries are looming, conventional wisdom is that the DC District Court will issue a decision soon after it hears arguments next week. Jose Garza, (who represents the Mexican American Legislative Caucus) arguing the case on behalf of the Appellees (including Rodriguez v. Perry), was asked by Justice Alito and Sotomayor whether the DC District Court could split voting precincts is Texas and what that would that do to the primary election date. Garza all but ruled out an April 3 primary because counties would need time to redraw voting precincts, develop ballots and mail ballots to soldiers serving overseas. This would mean a redistricting plan by late March and the Republican and Democratic primaries in late June. Garza told the Supreme Court that he expects the DC Court to rule in about week after closing arguments on February 3. The San Antonio District Court would draw map accordingly.
The bottom line is that we don’t know exactly when the DC District court will rule and we don’t know for certain when the primary will be held.