In a state that brags about its independence and bristles at any hint of federal intervention, Texas’s Republican leadership found itself in a tricky position on January 9. That was when Attorney General Greg Abbott finally had his day in court—the U.S. Supreme Court, that is, which had agreed to hear oral arguments regarding the latest round of Texas redistricting maps. At issue were interim maps for the state’s congressional and legislative districts that had been created by a federal court in San Antonio last November. These maps had superseded the ones the Legislature had drawn during the 2011 regular and special sessions, raising Abbott’s ire. In a bitter statement, he sought relief from one court to correct what he blasted as “judicial activism at its worst” by another.
Texas is no stranger to the high court when it comes to redistricting: six years ago the justices rejected the boundaries of South Texas’s Twenty-third Congressional District. But the current round of litigation is unlike any other the state has seen. The trials began in San Antonio last September, when a three-judge panel heard arguments from a coalition of civil rights groups that claimed the Legislature’s original maps failed to produce an appropriate number of minority “opportunity districts,” even though the Hispanic population had exploded by 41.8 percent over the previous decade—and helped give Texas four new congressional seats. As if there weren’t enough men and women in black robes already involved in the process, in November a federal district court for the District of Columbia said “the State of Texas used an improper standard” to account for minority voters. It scheduled a trial on January 17 to determine if the lines for the maps satisfied the requirements of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, perhaps the most important achievement of another Texas politician, President Lyndon B. Johnson.
This sequence of judicial maneuvering has turned the 2012 election schedule on its head. To accommodate the legal limbo, the primaries were moved from March 6 to April 3, and there’s no guarantee that they won’t be changed again depending on the Supreme Court’s ruling. As of press time, Texas had no maps in effect, no