April 19, 2004
Supremes deny Senate case on redistricting

The Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal of one of the lawsuits filed against last year's redistricting.

The Supreme Court refused today to consider if Texas Republicans went too far last year in their strategy to enact new GOP-friendly congressional boundaries.

The congressional map that could give Texas Republicans six more seats cleared the state Legislature after months of turmoil and two walkouts by Democrats.

Despite absent Democratic colleagues, Republican Senate leaders were able to get redistricting plans up for votes by bypassing the traditional requirement that two-thirds of the 31 senators had to agree to call up a bill before debates could begin.

The 11 Senate Democrats who had fled Texas for weeks filed a lawsuit arguing that the policy change violated the federal Voting Rights Act, which protects minority voters. They lost in a lower court and asked the Supreme Court to consider the case.

Justices affirmed the lower court finding. The court had also refused earlier this year to block congressional elections under the new map, which Democrats and minority groups argue tramples the rights of Hispanic and black voters.

The case is among multiple appeals at the Supreme Court over the Texas 32-district map, which has been cleared by the Justice Department and upheld by a three-judge federal panel.


The case is Barrientos v. Texas, 03-756.

To be honest, I've lost track of which lawsuits are still active. At this point, unless Vieth v. Jubelirir makes a whole bunch of Congressional districts nationwide invalid, we're stuck with the boundaries we've got. It's just reality, like it or not, and we need to move forward. Don't get me wrong here - I'm not going to forgive and I'll never forget who did what, but that battle's been fought, and the bad guys won. Let's do better next time.

UPDATE: As Beldar notes, the Supremes affirmed the lower court ruling, which is not the same as refusing to hear a case. I went by the first sentence of the story in composing my opening, so I apologize for the confusion. In any event, rereading the piece jogged my memory on it - this was the claim that suspending the 2/3 rule in the Senate violated the Voting Rights Act. Looking back, I didn't think much of that lawsuit at the time it was filed. The suit in which Democrats allege the map itself violates the Voting Rights Act, which I still believe has merit, has not yet been heard by SCOTUS.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 19, 2004 to Killer D's | TrackBack

Kuff, the Chron report is completely wrong, even if you ignore reporter H.G. Ratcliffe's obvious political bias.

The Supreme Court did not "refuse to hear" the Barrientos case (which was the first one decided last fall, heard by a three-judge panel in Laredo, challenging the suspension of the Senate's "blocker bill" tradition).

Rather, today the US Supreme Court affirmed the three-judge panel's decision — unanimously and on the merits — in a one-sentence summary decision. This means that the Dems couldn't get a single vote, and nobody on the Supreme Court thought the case merited so much as another sentence in the lawbooks beyond what the three-judge panel wrote.

This type of ruling — a Supreme Court "appeal as of right" on the merits, which by statute the Court has to "hear" — is almost unique to Voting Rights Act cases, but it's been true of those cases since 1965. Every first-year law student learns about this sort of ruling as part of their citation form instruction and federal procedure courses.

Unfortunately, tomorrow morning, several million Houstonians will be misled, like you were, into thinking that the Supreme Court "refused to hear" the case. It's absolutely shameful and inexcusably sloppy reporting. But of course it feeds into the party line — "more illegitimate powergrabbing by Dubya's and DeLay's cronies on the Court, just like Bush v. Gore" — when in fact it was a ruling on the merits joined in by even the most liberal Justices on the Court.

Posted by: Beldar on April 19, 2004 11:01 PM

Looking more carefully at your post, although your link is to Ratcliffe's story in the Chron, which does indeed say — wrongly — that the Supreme Court "refused to hear" the case, your blockquote is not from the Chron, but apparently from the AP report picked up by various other papers (e.g., the Fort Worth Star-Telegram). The AP report was accurate.

Posted by: Beldar on April 19, 2004 11:31 PM

At the time I linked the story, it was the AP wire report. The Chron usually goes with wire reports on breaking news like this before one of their reporters can file a story. I didn't realize until reading your comment that the link had changed to point to RG Ratcliffe's story.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on April 20, 2004 6:28 AM

Ah, that makes sense, Kuff, thanks for the clarification! They shoulda just stuck with the AP story — or at least have read it before misreporting contrary facts. I shoulda known that you, of course, pay proper respect to the integrity of hyperlinks (which is another bit that the Chron still doesn't get yet).

Posted by: Beldar on April 20, 2004 7:01 AM