"This is an issue that comes up every redistricting cycle," said Mark P. Jones, a professor of political science at Rice University. "As time passes, the ability of the Voting Rights Act to resist conservative pressure weakens. The Supreme Court will in turn be under increasing pressure to clarify the extent and the reach of the Act almost 50 years after its passage."
In 2006, Congress extended Section 5, which affects 17 states, for another 25 years, and last month Attorney General Eric Holder gave a speech passionately endorsing the law. But critics said that states should no longer be punished for discriminatory practices of the past.
Erin Chemerinsky, a professor of law at the University of California at Irvine, said that the constitutionality of Section 5 is very much "the backdrop of what the Supreme Court will be considering.
"Ultimately, the cases highlight a crucial issue sure to come directly before the court: Was the extension of Section 5 for another 25 years constitutional," Chemerinsky wrote in the American Bar Journal.
In the meantime, the redistricting controversy is wreaking havoc in Texas. Primary dates have been postponed until April, voters are not sure who their candidates are, and election officials worry that they won't be able to print and mail absentee and overseas ballots in time.
The Supreme Court is expected to act quickly. "Texas needs to have a map, and it needs to have one soon," said Karlan.