Supreme court largely backs Texas Republicans over electoral maps

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday handed a victory to Texas Republicans by reviving electoral districts drawn by the state legislature that had been thrown out by a lower court for diluting the influence of black and Hispanic voters.

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In a 5-4 ruling, the court’s conservative majority ruled that the challengers had not done enough to show that the Republican-led Texas legislature acted with discriminatory intent when it adopted new electoral maps in 2013 for state legislative and U.S. congressional seats. Republican President Donald Trump’s administration had backed Texas in the case. The court did rule, however, that one of the state legislature districts was unlawful.

Last September, the high court put on hold two lower court rulings from earlier in 2017 that had invalidated a series of Texas electoral districts. The justices then, as they were in Monday’s ruling, were divided 5-4, with the conservative justices backing the Texas Republicans and the liberals dissenting.

In the ruling, conservative Justice Samuel Alito said the lower court had “committed a fundamental legal error” in the way it had analyzed the dispute.

The maps, adopted in 2013 and challenged by individual voters and civil rights groups representing blacks and Hispanics, were based on court-drawn districts imposed for the 2012 election after prior Republican-draw maps drawn the previous year also were tossed as racially discriminatory. The maps at issue in the case have been in effect throughout the litigation.

The Texas legislature was under no legal obligation to show it had “cured” the “unlawful intent” that led to the lower court to throw out the original maps, Alito wrote.

The lower court found that the configuration of two U.S. House of Representatives districts violated the Voting Rights Act, a 1965 federal law that protects minority voters and was enacted to address a history of racial discrimination in voting, especially in Southern states. Texas has 36 U.S. House districts, 25 held by Republicans and 11 by Democrats.

The same court found similar faults with Texas state House of Representatives maps.

Gerrymandering typically is accomplished by packing voters who tend to favor a particular party into a small number of districts to reduce their statewide voting power while scattering others in districts in numbers too small to be a majority.

The Supreme Court issued two gerrymandering rulings last week on narrow legal grounds in cases involving Wisconsin and Maryland but both those disputes involved allegations that districts were configured for partisan gain rather than for racial discrimination.

Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham