A three-judge panel has blocked Texas's redistricting maps, a blow to Republicans that will most likely give Democrats more seats in the House and a better shot at retaking control of Congress next fall.
The court's decision to reject the state's request to approve the maps without a trial clears the way for a hearing on the issue. It also means that a Texas court will draw a temporary map for the 2012 election due to time constraints.
The state's congressional map needs to be approved by the federal government because of the state's history of racial discrimination.
The court issued an order that "Texas used an improper standard or methodology to determine which districts afford minority voters the ability to elect their preferred candidates of choice," indicating they not only need more time on the case but they are skeptical of Texas's arguments that they closely followed the law and may toss out the map for good.
In the meantime, this will trigger a temporary court-drawn map in Texas that will not be nearly as favorable to the Republicans, something they have been worried about.
"For Congress, that cheats us out of three seats," one Republican was overheard griping to another after a hearing last week on the matter.
At issue is whether the state's map meets requirements of the Voting Rights Act, which protects minority voters against discrimination. Texas Republicans might have overreached when they did not add any new minority-heavy districts to the new map, despite the state’s gaining four congressional seats because of its population growth, most of which came from Hispanics and African-Americans.
They also swapped out many Hispanic precincts in Rep. Francisco “Quico” Canseco’s (R-Texas) district to undercut Hispanic Democrats there and help Canseco win reelection, which could also be illegal.
If the Republican map had become law, the GOP would have likely been able to win 26 of the state's 36 House seats, an increase from the 23-9 edge the party has now. But a court-drawn map will likely give Democrats 12 or 13 seats instead.
Republicans put themselves in this predicament with an aggressive gerrymander that might not pass legal muster. They also failed to pass a map with enough time to get it cleared in Washington, and opted to go through the courts instead of the Department of Justice, a much slower process.