WASHINGTON â€“ In a closely watched fight over Texas voting districts and the rights of Latinos,Â Chief Justice John RobertsÂ aptly observed, “We are all under the gun of very strict time limitations.”
Monday’s Supreme Court arguments in a case that could affect voting rights nationwide were marked by frustration among the justices. On one side is a looming Texas primary schedule. On the other, separate proceedings in a lower court in Washington could eclipse any action the justices take.
At the end of the sometimes testy session, it was unclear which way the high court was headed among competing interests. Texas Republicans want reinstatement of maps drawn by the GOP-dominated Legislature. Mexican-American advocates favor a lower-court-drawn interim map. TheÂ U.S.Â Justice Department wants the case returned to a lower U.S. court inÂ San AntonioÂ for further proceedings.
The dispute is being closely watched as numerous challenges from other states and localities have been made to a provision in the landmark 1965Â Voting Rights ActÂ forcing certain places, mostly in the South, to submit their election procedure changes for screening, also called “pre-clearance.”
Liberals, such as Justice Sonia Sotomayor, expressed skepticism for theÂ Texas Legislature‘s plan, which has yet to be screened under the Voting Rights Act to see whether it would hurt minority voters and their chances to elect their candidates of choice. “I don’t see how we can give deference to an enacted new map, if section 5 (of the Voting Rights Act) says don’t give it effect until its been pre-cleared,” she said.
Cconservatives such as Roberts suggested there should be no presumption that such pre-clearance would be denied, as a lower federal court in San Antonio presumed.
“I don’t know how you lean one way and say, it’s horrible, you can’t use (the state Legislature’s plan) because it hasn’t been pre-cleared,” Roberts said, “but it’s all right in drawing the interim plan to treat it as if pre-clearance has been denied.”
Justice Anthony Kennedy, traditionally a key vote in racially charged cases, expressed some sympathy for Texas because it is one of the nine states that must submit any voting-district maps or changes in electoral procedures to federal officials before they can be implemented.
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