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High Court Tosses Out Interim Texas Map

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo

Updated 4:09 p.m.

The Supreme Court this morning threw out the interim Texas Congressional map drawn by a lower court, thrusting the Lone Star State redistricting process into turmoil once again.

The high court's unanimous, unsigned decision is a blow to Democrats, who stood to pick up a few House seats in 2012 if the lower court's maps were put into practice.

The high court ordered that even though the map passed by the state Legislature has not been granted preclearance, that does not "require a court to take up the state legislature's task."

A federal three-judge panel in San Antonio redrew the Congressional map for 2012 after it was clear the map passed by state lawmakers last year would head to a lengthy preclearance trial. But Republicans, including Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, claimed the San Antonio court overstepped its boundaries with its thorough redraw.

"The Supreme Court confirmed that the San Antonio court drew illegal maps, without regard for the policy decisions of elected leaders," Abbott said in a statement following the decision.

The Court agreed with Abbott and ruled quickly less than two weeks after oral arguments that the lower court did not have the right to overhaul the entire Congressional map in its redraw. Instead, the justices said the lower court should take its cues from the state plan, even though it has not been precleared yet, but fix only the certain legal problems with it.

"To avoid being compelled to make such otherwise standardless decisions, a district court should take guidance from the State's recently enacted plan in drafting an interim plan," the justices wrote.

There are four new House seats at stake this year due to population growth in the Lone Star State. Either party could pick up a few of those new seats depending on how the Congressional lines are drawn.

Texas is one of nine states that require preclearance from the Justice Department or a federal court before its new Congressional maps can be enforced as law.

Abbott opted to sue the Justice Department for preclearance in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Closing arguments for that case are scheduled Feb. 3.

In wake of their major legal setback, Democrats attempted to paint the decision as a means to draw new lines that adhere to both the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution.

"Nothing in the court's ruling excuses Texas from abiding by the U.S. Voting Rights Act," Texas redistricting expert Matt Angle, a Democrat, said. "The state's plans are unlikely to survive the review under way in D.C., so we should expect that new maps will be ordered over the next several weeks."

In wake of the ruling, attorneys from both parties scrambled to determine the consequences. They cautioned any interpretations are merely speculative until the lower court makes a move.

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