The US Supreme Court issued a surprise stay late Friday evening that in effect could decide which party controls the US House majority after the 2012 election. A little over two weeks ago, a three-judge panel in San Antonio threw out new congressional maps drawn by the Texas legislature earlier this year. One of the fastest growing states in the country, Texas gained four additional US House seats after the 2010 census. Most of that growth can be attributed to the state's booming Hispanic population, which now represents almost 40 percent of the state. Yet when the Republican legislature went to redraw the maps, they gerrymandered the new seats to favor their party and shut the minority population out. Civil rights groups appealed and convinced the federal court to create a more representative map, increasing the number of majority-minority districts from 10 to 13, giving Democrats a strong possibility of gaining three of the four new House seats next year.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott immediately filed an appeal at the US Supreme Court requesting a stay, and he will have the chance to air his grievances on Jan. 9. By taking the case, the high court has opened itself to accusations of direct partisan electioneering. "The Supreme Court is going to be thrust in the unusual position of deciding a case with immediate partisan consequences," writes Rick Hansen, a law professor at University of California, Irvine. "It is no exaggeration to say that with three or four additional Democratic seats at issue under the original Court-drawn plan, the decision could help decide control of the House." If the case is decided by the court's usual 5-4 partisan split, it'll be hard to see this as anything but a repeat of Bush v. Gore, albeit with lower stakes.