Court hears key Texas cases on voting, race


The U.S. Supreme Court docket has two key cases out of the Lone Star State this week.
The U.S. Supreme Court docket has two key cases out of the Lone Star State this week. AP

The U.S. Supreme Court docket is Texas-heavy this week, with arguments on two key cases out of the Lone Star State.

The high court’s rulings on the issues involved — whether the balanced population counts for voting districts should include everyone or be keyed to eligible voters, and whether the University of Texas at Austin properly uses race in its admissions policy — will set important legal precedents.

That’s why there’s a Supreme Court, to settle — or at least establish guidelines for — complicated questions of legal right and wrong.

Rulings on the two cases might not come until the court ends its current term next summer, although the justices have seen the UT case before and could finish it off sooner.

The case on how voting districts are drawn, Evenwel v. Abbott, was brought by two people who live in rural areas near Houston.

The potential results are not difficult to see.

Keeping the current method of drawing districts based on total population gives more clout to urban areas that have more minorities, immigrants and children who are not eligible to vote.

Balancing district headcounts based on eligible voters instead would shift more districts out of heavily populated cities toward rural areas that tend to have more older, white, Republican residents.

Some of the arguments in the case say states should be allowed to choose which method to use.

Don’t trust gut feelings about how this one will go. The arguments are complex, the political stakes high.

The UT case, Fisher v. University of Texas, has been in court since 2008. When the Supreme Court heard it in 2013, the justices sent it back to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for closer scrutiny of UT’s use of race and ethnicity for a portion of its annual admissions.

The court approved race-based admissions policies back in 2003 but said these policies must be “narrowly tailored” and used only after “good-faith consideration” of race-neutral policies.

The 5th Circuit approved UT’s policy again last year. Legal experts point out that the Supreme Court is not likely to have taken up the case again just to rubber-stamp the appeals court ruling.

About 75 to 80 percent of UT’s freshman class in Austin each year is admitted through a race-neutral standard based on grades. But UT argues that other steps are needed for the remainder in order to admit promising minority students and achieve “qualitative diversity.”

It’s clear that the justices are not enamored of race-based admissions policies. The question here might be how far they will go to further restrict or even eliminate use of those policies.