December 11, 2003
Democrats fire salvo in redistricting case

On the eve of the federal redistricting lawsuit, attorneys for the Democratic plaintiffs have released memos which detailed the extent of Tom DeLay's involvement in the process.

[Democratic lawyer J. Gerald] Hebert noted one memo in which [DeLay's political aide Jim] Ellis admitted that a map like the one the Legislature passed had a "risk" of being rejected by the U.S. Justice Department, which must conduct a pre-clearance legal review under the Voting Rights Act.

"The pre-clearance and political risks are the delegation's, and we are willing to assume those risks, but only with our map," Ellis wrote in one memo.

Some of Ellis' other key statements from various memos include:

As a conference committee worked on a final deal, Ellis wrote, "major adjustments must be made to ensure that the map reflects the priorities of the congressional delegation and not the Legislature."

"The (state) House map, in particular, is flawed because it is dominated with largely insignificant state legislative agendas."

"We need our map, which has been researched and vetted (by the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee) for months."

"We must stress that a map that returns (Democratic U.S. Reps. Martin) Frost, (Chet) Edwards and (Lloyd) Doggett is unacceptable and not worth all of the time invested in this project."

Remember, kids, redistricting is a function that must be handled by the state Legislature. If someone other than the Legislature draws the map, the map is invalid. Right?

There's some more info in the Statesman story and also in the Austin Chronicle. The Express News has background on the plaintiffs:

"The Jackson plaintiffs," part of a group that sued the state's 2001 redistricting plan, this year are joined by most of the Texas Democratic U.S. House members. They charge the new districts violate the law because "minority voters in Texas are denied an equal opportunity to participate effectively in the political process," that they intentionally discriminate against African Americans and Hispanics and were drawn "with excessive and unjustified use of race and racial data."

The American GI Forum, represented by the San Antonio-based Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, charges that the plan will deny the rights of voters "on account of their race, color or ethnicity ... by canceling out or minimizing their voting strengths as minorities in Texas" and that it "intentionally reduces the Latino population and voting strength of Congressional District 23," which is represented by a Republican, U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla of San Antonio.

Republican mapmakers removed half of Webb County from Bonilla's district, along with a bloc of voters who are predominantly Hispanic and Democratic, and replaced it with heavily Republican counties in the Hill Country. Bonilla never has carried Webb County, relying instead on mostly Anglo voters in North and Northwest Bexar County.

The League of United Latin American Citizens, along with Webb and Cameron counties, charges Voting Rights Act violations because "the communities of interest are split" in those counties. Recent census data shows that Webb contains the greatest proportion of Hispanics of any U.S. county, some 94 percent of the population.

U.S. Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee and Eddie Bernice Johnson, who are African American Democrats from Houston and Dallas, respectively, hired their own attorney to argue that the state plan "is not the by-product of population growth or shifts" and is not consistent with the map adopted in 2001, which was drawn by the federal courts. They argue that the court's decision in 2001 "was not an interim plan" and should not be replaced by any new map.

The Texas Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People says the Legislature's plan was "drawn primarily, if not solely, as a political and/or racial gerrymander." The state's African American voters now elect or have a strong say in the election of 16 members of Congress, and the NAACP will argue that number will drop to 10 members if the new plan takes effect.

The NAACP also charges the state doesn't have the authority to redraw congressional districts more often than once a decade.

The Morning News mentions the recent Texas Poll in regards to redistricting.

The Texas Poll found that 48 percent of those surveyed supported the governor's decision to call three special sessions, and 42 percent opposed it.
Asked whether the resulting plan was merited, 26 percent said lawmakers needed to redraw the lines while 62 percent called the effort a waste of time and money.

The telephone survey of 1,000 Texans selected at random was conducted Nov. 14-Dec. 6. The margin of error was 3 percentage points, meaning the results of any answer could vary by that much in either direction.

I'm trying to come up with an explanation that squares those numbers, but I'm having a hard time. There must be some people who both supported the special sessions and yet think the outcome was a waste of time and money, and I just don't know how you can do that, at least after the fact. The Chronicle has a graphic in their print edition which shows the result for the second question, and also the result for "Would you favor or oppose allowing a commission to handle redistricting?", in which 54% favored, 28% opposed, and 18% didn't know or gave no answer.

The Chron also reports on the Pennsylvania case, which is now being heard by the Supreme Court, and its connections to the Texas case.

Paul Smith, arguing for Democratic voters challenging a new congressional map in Pennsylvania, asked the high court to limit gerrymandering, a practice in which district lines are redrawn to overwhelmingly favor one party.

Smith also is fighting that battle for Democrats in Texas whose representatives earlier this year fled the state twice as Republican lawmakers worked to pass a redistricting plan that would give the GOP a majority in the state's congressional delegation.

Unlike the Pennsylvania case, however, the Texas Democrats also have alleged racial gerrymandering, accusing Republicans of trying to dilute the voting strength of Hispanics and blacks in violation of constitutional and federal Voting Rights Act protections.

Republicans counter that any impact on minority voters in Texas is unintentional. The state Legislature's goal, they say, was not to exclude minorities or diminish their voting power, which would be illegal, but merely to create a map favorable to Republicans, which is legal.

Smith said a three-judge federal court in Austin will be asked to halt the implementation of the new Texas map until the high court offers guidance in the Pennsylvania case. The old map would then be in place in the 2004 elections.

Failing that, he said, Texas Democrats intend to take their case to the Supreme Court as well -- possibly by the end of the year. If Republicans lose in Texas, they also could go directly to the high court.

That case won't have a ruling for months. We ought to have boundaries for this year by then, though whether they'll be what we have in 2006 or not is anyone's guess.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 11, 2003 to Killer D's | TrackBack

Kuff, you wrote:

Remember, kids, redistricting is a function that must be handled by the state Legislature. If someone other than the Legislature draws the map, the map is invalid. Right?

Why do so many large-D Democrats pretend to be perplexed by small-d democracy?

Yes, state legislators have to make the final decision when they cast their yay or nay votes. The theory of small-d democracy presumes that when they do so, they will have listened to, and indeed been influenced and even persuaded by, various constituencies. On both sides of the aisle, among the key constituencies that state legislators have traditionally, consistently listened to in redistricting matters have been — surprise! — their respective parties' existing Congressional delegations. Voila, democracy!

Was it a dead-cinch lock that in fact DeLay and the Republican Congressmen would succeed in their exercise of influence? Well, no, of course it wasn't. They didn't end up getting 100 percent of even the Republican state legislators on board, and in fact you had great fun in lampooning how long it took them to get their act together notwithstanding being the majority party in an undivided government. But eventually they did get enough on board behind a bill that both chambers passed and the governor duly signed.

Ultimately, both the Congress-critters and the state legislators are accountable to the voters: Voila, democracy again! Indeed, the entire Texas redistricting story of 2003 is that the majority party legislators, lieutenant governor, and governor used the constitutional tools deliberately placed into their hands, rather than their Democratic opponents', by a sizeable majority of the state's voters during the 2002 election.

If you don't like the sausage, your obvious solution is to try to change the recipe at the polling places in 2004. Again, voila: democracy!

The alternative -- having panels of three unelected, life-tenured federal judges make these decisions -- is dramatically undemocratic. Indeed, the judges themselves, regardless of the party affiliations of the presidents who've appointed them, are among the first to complain about their own unfitness to make the nuanced political calculations that quite properly ought to go into redistricting decisions.

I know you know these things, and it bemuses me when you pretend, while making a joke, that you don't. Unfortunately, however, when people like Gerald Hebert insist on publicly portraying the democratic redistricting process as if it's all a secret, evil, racist conspiracy (he's all but insisted that it was Tom DeLay on the grassy knoll), some suckers (including newspaper reporters) fall for that pitch. I seriously doubt that the judges now hearing the challenge to the Texas map will, however. And I'll frankly be very surprised if the Supremes redraw the political landscape in the Pennsylvania case to shift power away from state legislators and into the hands of federal judges.

In the meantime, however, at least you and I can agree that there continues to be substantial entertainment value in all of this, even if you chuckle at some different things than I do.

Posted by: Beldar on December 11, 2003 2:13 PM

Yes, this was mostly snarkiness on my part. As always, this is what they call a "target-rich environment".

I have no clue what the federal court here will do, though I am sure that whoever loses will file the fastest appeal you've ever seen. O'Connor's remarks as reported in the PA case make me think that the Supremes will uphold PA's redistricting, but I'm hoping to be surprised.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on December 11, 2003 2:44 PM

I don't know how much bearing Ellis's memo will have on the merits of the suit, but it sure as hell indicates just who was calling the shots, doesn't it? If I were a proud Republican state legislator, I'd be a tad embarrassed.

Posted by: Linkmeister on December 12, 2003 1:11 AM