January 20, 2012

Supreme Court Decides Perry v. Perez

On January 20, 2012, the Supreme Court decided Perry v. Perez, Nos. 11-713, 11-714, and 11-715, vacating the Texas District Court's interim redistricting electoral plan.  The Court held that courts issuing interim redistricting electoral plans should be guided by electoral plans enacted by the state legislature even when such plans have not been precleared by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

The case arose from three consolidated cases regarding redistricting for elections in Texas.  The 2010 census demonstrated an "enormous increase" in Texas' population, which required the state make "sweeping changes" to its electoral districts.  Texas is subject to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which, in part, suspends all changes to its election procedures until the changes have been approved by a judicial panel or the Attorney General.  The Constitution requires that all electoral districts comply with the "one-person, one-vote" rule.  The Texas legislature enacted a redistricting electoral plan that was submitted to, but not approved by, the judicial panel prior to the Texas 2012 primaries.  Thus, the District Court of Texas had to devise interim plans for the Texas 2012 primaries and elections. 

The Supreme Court vacated the district court's plan.  In doing so, the Court highlighted the importance of following the redistricting plan enacted by the state legislature in two ways.  First, the Court rejected the appellees' argument that a district court should ignore the state's enacted plan in developing its interim redistricting plan.  The Court explained that the legislative plan "provides important guidance" that helps prevent the court from "displacing legitimate state policy judgments with the court's own preferences."  The legislative plan, however, does not provide guidance when legal challenges to the plan are shown to have a likelihood of success on the merits. 

Second, district courts must "be careful not to prejudge the merits of the preclearance proceedings" when issuing their interim plans.  Thus, the state's policy judgments should guide the district court's plan "unless they reflect aspects of the state plan that stand a reasonable probability of failing to gain" preclearance.  The Court defined "reasonable probability" as a challenge that is "not insubstantial." 

In the remainder of the opinion the Court provided guidance on some of the district court's specific choices in formulating the redistricting plan.  The District Court appeared to have improperly used existing voter precinct districts to save time and expense.  The District Court's order may have intentionally drawn a district as a "minority coalition opportunity district" that combined two different minority groups to form an electoral majority, rather than one that simply reflected population growth. 

The Court's decision was per curiam.  Justice Thomas filed an opinion concurring in the judgment.

Download Opinion of the Court

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