The Supreme Court on Monday ruled on two highly anticipated gerrymandering cases in Texas and North Carolina, in orders that mean most of the controversial maps in both states will likely be used this fall's midterm elections.
The court upheld three of four district maps in Texas that critics argued intentionally discriminated against minority voters, but struck down one.
In North Carolina, it wiped away a lower court opinion that had invalidated congressional maps there as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.
The decision on Monday marked yet another step by the Supreme Court on gerrymandering cases. Last week, the court punted on alleged gerrymandering in Wisconsin and Maryland, allowing the maps to stand for now.
"The common thread in the court's gerrymandering decisions this term has been to generally make it harder for plaintiffs to bring these claims," said CNN legal analyst and University of Texas Law School professor Steve Vladeck, "and to generally allow states more flexibility and deference in drawing congressional and state district lines."
The Texas case divided the justices by 5-4, splitting them along conservative-liberal lines. The court appeared closely divided on the case in April and split 5-4 last fall when it opted to freeze a lower court opinion invalidating two congressional districts and state house districts in four counties.
Texas had argued it had been treated unfairly when the lower court struck down maps the court had actually ordered into effect during an earlier stage of the litigation. Challengers, including voting rights groups, had said the state adopted the interim maps only to dodge further litigation.
In his majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito said all but one of the disputed districts reviewed were lawful. "There is nothing to suggest that the Legislature proceeded in bad faith, " Alito wrote.
In a blistering dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by the liberals on the bench, said the court went "out of its way to permit the State of Texas to use maps that the three-judge District Court unanimously found were adopted for the purpose of preserving the racial discrimination that tainted its previous maps."
In an unsigned order Monday, the court wiped away a lower court opinion that had invalidated congressional maps in North Carolina as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander and instructed the lower court to revisit the case in light of the Supreme Court's recent opinion concerning maps in Wisconsin.
In that case, Gill v. Whitford, a 9-0 court held that challengers did not have the legal right to bring the suit because they had failed to prove "concrete and particularized" injury that would demonstrate that the right to vote had been burdened.
Now the lower court will have to see how the Wisconsin ruling should impact North Carolina.
Even before ruling, the Supreme Court had suggested it was skeptical of the North Carolina ruling. The court voted 7-2 in January to put it on hold until it could act. That meant the maps would likely be used for the next election.
Challengers to the North Carolina had hoped the court would take up their case and hear it next term.
"Justice delayed is justice denied," said Common Cause executive director Bob Phillips, "however, we are confident that we have standing to be able to make our way back to the Supreme Court so that the Justices may draw a clear line against partisan political gerrymanders that leave too many Americans without fair representation."
North Carolina officials did not dispute that they sought to favor supporters of Republican candidates. The state legislator responsible for drawing the maps said he did so because "electing Republicans is better than electing Democrats."