A three-judge panel for the US District Court for the Western District of Texas [official website] ruled [text, PDF] Tuesday that the Obama administration [official website] would be allowed to join the ongoing challenge to Texas' voter redistricting maps. The ruling will allow the administration to argue for bringing oversight of Texas' voting law back under the court. This oversight was changed after the US Supreme Court's ruling in Shelby County v. Holder [text] in June. While Texas argued that the government's challenge was both untimely and moot, the court ruled 2-1 that the government should be allowed to join. Stating in the opinion:
We have already concluded that the 2011 plan claims are not moot and that the parties can pursue relief under § 3(c) with regard to the 2011 plan claims. ... Accordingly, Defendants' opposition to intervention on the basis of mootness lacks merit. ... The United States has a direct interest in the construction and application of § 3(c) that was not present until after the Shelby County ruling. Therefore, the interest that the United States seeks to protect is not the same interest that was present from the inception of the litigation. ... [T]he United States timely moved to intervene to protect its interest in the litigation of § 3(c) issues (and their effect on the application of § 5 preclearance) once its interest became apparent.The court also noted that the government's interest could produce distinctive arguments from those currently put forward by the challengers. Because of this, the court stated, joining the government fully to this matter would not introduce any undue delay or prejudice.
This is the latest development in one of two major challenges to Texas voting laws. The other significant challenge is to Texas' Voter ID law. The controversial SB 14 passed [press release] the Texas Legislature [official website] in 2011 and has remained a contentious voting rights [JURIST backgrounder] issue ever since. In August the US Department of Justice (DOJ) filed [JURIST report] their petition against the law. The DOJ rejected the Texas law [JURIST report] shortly after it came into effect in April 2012, noting that SB 14 would have a disproportionate impact on the state's Latino voters, and that the law is potentially discriminatory. The dispute around the voting map began to intensify with a federal court ruled [JURIST report] the proposed 2011 maps were discriminatory in August 2012. Before that, the Supreme Court rejected [JURIST report] proposed interim redistricting maps in January 2012.