The Supreme Court will consider Travis County, Texas, et al. v. Rick Perry, Governor of Texas, et al., along with several other related Texas redistricting cases, during its private conference on Friday. They are among dozens of cases the Court will review at the conference to determine if they should be added to the Court’s docket for argument.
In October 2004 the Supreme Court remanded the Texas redistricting case back to a three-judge federal panel, which then rejected, for a second time, legal challenges to the new Texas congressional map, passed in 2003 and followed in the 2004 election.
The appellants, which include elected officials and special interest groups, are asking the Court to throw out the new map in favor of one drawn shortly after the 2000 census. They also want the Court to explicitly define what constitutes partisan gerrymandering — an act the Court last year deemed unconstitutional. If the Court agrees to hear the case, opening arguments could begin next spring.
You can reinstate the 2001 map if you want, but I say once the 2004 election occurred with the present map, it became impossible to redress the wrongs. You can’t give Frost, Lampson, Sandlin, Turner, Stenholm, Bell, and Rodriguez their incumbency and seniority back. The best you can do is to ensure that this sort of thing doesn’t happen again. For that reason, I could see the court ruling that mid-decade redistricting is illegal, and I could see them coming up with a new standard for partisan gerrymandering, but I can’t see them throwing out the existing map and ordering the previous lines to be reinstated. At this point, it just doesn’t make sense.
In June a three-judge panel unanimously rejected the appellants’ claims, ruling the partisan gerrymandering did not rise to a level it could deem unconstitutional. Judge John Ward, in a separate, concurring opinion, expressed concern that the map possibly violated the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause, but that there is currently no constitutional test for excessive partisanship.
In making his point, Ward cited Vieth v. Jubelirer, a Pennsylvania gerrymandering case the Supreme Court decided in 2004. The 5-4 decision said that partisan gerrymandering should be illegal, but the Court did not define what constitutes legal redistricting.
The appeals panel split on whether a state can redraw district boundaries when a plan already exists.
Loyola Law School professor Rick Hasen, an election law expert, says the Court’s failure to agree on a judicial test for gerrymandering and the question of redistricting mid-decade may be reason enough for the Court to hear the Texas case. The swing vote on the Pennsylvania case was Justice Anthony Kennedy, who agreed gerrymandering violates the Constitution but was not prepared to author a test.
“Kennedy said he wanted to keep the issue open for another day,” says Hasen. But he also warns that the Court’s liberal camp may be wary of using the Texas case to write a test to distinguish redistricting from gerrymandering. “In terms of the unfair partisan gerrymandering, the facts are not as extreme as they were in Pennsylvania.”
Given how utterly illogical our boundaries would be if partisanship were not the consideration, that’s saying something about Pennsylvania.