In a late Friday afternoon order, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the use of court-drawn maps for legislative and congressional districts in Texas, telling the lawyers involved to be ready for oral arguments next month.
The state asked the court for a stay on maps for congressional, Texas House and Texas Senate maps. The court's order asks for briefs from the lawyers by December 21, replies by January 3, and sets the cases for oral arguments on January 9.
Candidates are already filing for office, working against a December 15 deadline. That's next Thursday. Since the maps aren't set, the deadline will probably be meaningless, at least for the congressional and legislative candidates. That could change the candidates' calculations about who's running for what. A lousy district in the current map could be replaced with a better one, if the maps are redrawn after the Supreme Court rules.
In its request for a stay, the state suggested the congressional and legislative primaries could be delayed from March 6 to May 22. The other primaries — for President, U.S. Senate, and so on — will remain in March.
Here's the court's order:
The applications for stay presented to Justice Scalia and by him referred to the Court are granted, and it is ordered that the orders issued by the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas on November 23, 2011, in case Nos. 5:11-CV-360, and 5:11-CV-788, and the order of November 26, 2011, in case No. 5:11-CV-360, are hereby stayed pending further order of the Court. In addition, the applications for stay are treated as jurisdictional statements, and in each case probable jurisdiction is noted. The cases are consolidated and a total of one hour is allotted for oral argument. The briefs of appellants and appellees, not to exceed 15,000 words, are to be filed simultaneously with the Clerk and served upon opposing counsel on or before 2 p.m., Wednesday, December 21, 2011. Reply briefs, not to exceed 15,000 words, are to be filed simultaneously with the Clerk and served upon opposing counsel on or before 2 p.m., Tuesday, January 3, 2012. The cases are set for oral argument on Monday, January 9, 2012, at 1 p.m.
And here's a statement from Texas Republican Party Chairman Steve Munisteri:
"The Supreme Court's action in staying the recently drawn maps issued by the three-judge federal district court panel in San Antonio, is a clear indication that the concerns we raised last week concerning the panel's actions, have merit. It has been the RPT's position that the majority of the district court panel exceeded their judicial authority and attempted to usurp the rightful duties of the Texas State Legislature. It has also been our position that the maps approved by the Legislature did comply with the Voting Rights' Act and did protect the interests of minority voters, particularly the interests of Hispanic voters in Texas. I applaud Attorney General Greg Abbott and his legal team for their quick action in appealing this matter to the U.S. Supreme Court and congratulate them for winning the first round before that court in obtaining a stay on the panel's maps. We are hopeful that the Attorney General and his team will be able to demonstrate to the Court the necessity of throwing out the panel's maps. Further, we hope the Court will either restore the original district lines of the Legislature, or at the very least, make revisions to the district court panel's maps which are more in tune with the legislative intent. We do not have information at this time as to what effect, if any, the Court's stay will have on the filing period or primary dates. As soon as we receive further instruction from the Court, we will advise the public."