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There's big Supreme Court news tonight that the justices have decided to grant an emergency appeal to Texas Republicans, who had their pro-GOP redistricting map thrown out and redrawn by a lower court because of its violations of the Voting Rights Act and its denial of representation opportunities to Latinos.

From the LA Times:

In an unusual move, the justices announced they would schedule special arguments on Jan. 9 to decide whether Texas and other Southern states may proceed to hold elections under new redistricting plans that have not been approved under the Voting Rights Act.

The fast-track case will pit Texas Republicans against Latinos and Democrats who say the state's congressional delegation should more closely reflect the surge in the Latino population.

The outcome could also affect who controls the House of Representative
s, political experts said.

"The Supreme Court is going to be thrust into the unusual position of deciding a case with immediate partisan consequences," said Richard Hasen, a law professor and election law expert at UC Irvine. "It is no exaggeration to say that with three or four additional Democratic seats at issue under the original court-drawn plan, the decision could help decide control of the House."

That this decision was announced on a Friday evening, the time when all politically unpopular or controversial news is released, makes me nervous.

After the rulings this court has had in recent years with Bush v. Gore, Citizens United and allowing to stand the Indiana voter ID law that set up a new poll tax and set off this craze in state legislatures to deny voting to typically Democratic voting groups, I am very suspicious of yet another step by SCOTUS into the political question realm.

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To those unfamiliar with the Texas map situation, some background from Politico:

The court’s order is the latest chapter in what has emerged as a protracted legal fight over Texas’s congressional map, which is gaining four new seats in the current round of reapportionment to accommodate the Hispanic-led population boom in the state over the last decade.

After the GOP-controlled state legislature approved a map that would net the party as many as two seats, the Justice Department, joined by minority-rights groups, filed a lawsuit arguing that the plan diminished Hispanic voting power. The San Antonio court was tasked with drawing up an interim plan for the 2012 elections until a Washington, DC-based court determines whether the Republican-passed plan is legal.

The interim plan marked a victory for Democrats, who would have been likely to win as many as three of the state’s four new seats as a result. The plan imperils the seat of freshman GOP Rep. Quico Canseco, while also diminishing GOP voting strength in the districts of Republicans Reps. Joe Barton and Ron Paul, who is retiring.

The temporary map also staved off a battle between two Democrats, establishing two districts for Rep. Lloyd Doggett and state Rep. Joaquin Castro to each run in. Under the Republican-drawn plan, the two would have been forced to compete for a single San Antonio-based seat.

Perhaps I am overreacting, but I just do not trust this Supreme Court majority to not do everything it can to issue rulings that maximize Republican partisan advantages without any concern for the voting rights or concerns of minorities.

And after the Citizens United ruling, where the Roberts court seized upon a small issue in McCain-Feingold and its prohibition on independent group advertisement expenditures in the run-up to an election to make a huge wide-ranging holding against campaign finance reform writ large, I wonder what this Court could be up to.

Will it be making a similar stand against the Voting Rights Act writ large and attempt to undo the requirement that the Department of Justice approve maps drawn by historic suppressors of minority right? I also wonder if SCOTUS intends to make something of the issue of the Voting Rights Act being used to ensure representation of Latinos rather than African-Americans.

Whatever ruling the Court makes here could also have an impact on the Illinois map where Democrats hope to gain seats in Congress. Illinois does not need Department of Justice approval for its maps under the Voting Rights Act, but Republicans have challenged the map drawn by the Democratic legislature in federal court on the basis that it doesn't create a second Latino-majority district in the state and Latino representation has been diluted.

The federal courts threw out the Illinois GOP challenge of the state legislative maps, but they pushed back filing deadlines in the Congressional races last week while they make a ruling on issues around the Congressional map that were discussed at a trial last month. From AP:

The fate of Illinois' new congressional districts is in the hands of three federal judges after a trial that will decide a Republican lawsuit against the Democrat-drawn map ended Friday in federal court.

"We'll do our best to work very hard as well," U.S. District Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow told the teams of attorneys who had spent two days presenting evidence, grilling witnesses and fighting over experts who clashed.

Prominent Republicans, including all but one Republican congressman from Illinois, sued to block the Democrats' map because they contend it will decimate their recent gains in Congress and dilute Latino voting influence. Republicans have given the court an alternative map they want them to impose.

[...]

Attorneys for the state contend the congressional map doesn't discriminate against Latinos because Latino members of the General Assembly supported its passage and Latino interest groups also have voiced support for the new districts.

Hold on to your hats, folks. Republicans may be opening a new front on using government power to manipulate the electoral process for partisan advantage.

UPDATE: Looks like David Nir had something on this in DKos Elections as well.

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