When Texas came out of the 2010 U.S. Census with the biggest demographic prize in the nation - four shiny new congressional seats - everyone knew the stage was set for another bare-knuckled political fight for control of those districts.
What most didn’t expect was how the Texas redistricting battle would snowball - potentially knocking the state out of the March 6 Super Tuesday lineup of primaries, possibly hurting the presidential hopes of its native son candidates, and blowing up into another showdown between the White House and Supreme Court.
The high court waded into the dispute Friday, granting an emergency request from Texas Republicans to stay a three-judge federal panel in San Antonio, ordering the judges to hold off on their plan to toss the state Legislature’s Republican-drawn congressional map and replace it with a more minority-friendly version.
The Republican map would have given the GOP a better chance to snap up at least three of the four new seats, while the judges’ map gives the Democrats the edge in three of the four.
Democrats currently are outnumbered 23 to nine in the state’s 32-member U.S. House delegation, and Republicans control both U.S. Senate seats, the governorship, the state Legislature and most statewide offices.
The Supreme Court’s decision to get involved in the case - they’re expected to hand down a ruling within weeks on whether the federal panel overstepped its authority - could be the latest flash point in the fractious relationship between the justices and the Obama administration.
The Supreme Court already is scheduled to rule next year on whether the Obama administration can override Arizona’s illegal-immigration crackdown and whether the president overreached with the Affordable Care Act.
The administration has made it clear it’s not happy with redistricting in Texas.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., speaking from the University of Texas campus in Austin on Tuesday, said the Justice Department will argue before the Supreme Court that the Republican maps fail to reflect the political importance of the state’s growing Hispanic population.
“We intend to argue vigorously at trial that this was the kind of discrimination that Section Five [of the Voting Rights Act] was intended to block,” Mr. Holder said.
But Texas Republican Party Chairman Steve Munisteri, citing the emergence of a slate of rising young Republican Hispanic officeholders in the state, dismissed accusations that the map approved by the Legislature is discriminatory.
“The [panel] seems to fail to take into account the fact that more Hispanics have been elected statewide on the Republican ticket than on the Democratic ticket,” he wrote last week. “In the 2010 election, the RPT helped elect five new Republicans of Hispanic descent to the state House … and two new Republicans of Hispanic descent to the U.S. Congress.”
The Supreme Court has scheduled arguments for Jan. 9, fast-tracking the case so that Texas and other Southern states being targeted by the Obama administration’s Justice Department can proceed with 2012 primaries - or alter them accordingly.
Under the Voting Rights Act, the Southern states, including Texas, have to have their redistricting maps approved by the Justice Department or a federal court.
When judges in Washington rejected the Texas maps last month, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Texas Atty. Gen. Greg Abbott, both Republicans, asked the Supreme Court to step in.