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Re-redistricting re-review reactions

Here’s the Chron story on the re-redistricting re-review. The main difference between it and the earlier AP version is this:

Democrats claimed optimism following the announcement that the justices had agreed to hear arguments. “Today’s Supreme Court action agreeing to take up the Texas case on Tom DeLay’s illegal redistricting scheme is a hopeful sign that the voting rights of millions of minorities will be restored,” said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott countered, “After hearing the case, we expect the court will agree with the unanimous judgment of the three-judge federal court that the Texas redistricting plan is wholly constitutional.”

DeLay spokesman Kevin Madden added, “The effort to deliver a new congressional map was founded in the belief that a history of gerrymandering efforts by Democrats in Texas had resulted in an unfair representation of Texas voters.”


The Supreme Court, in an opinion in 2004, upheld a Republican-drawn redistricting plan for Pennsylvania on a vote of 5-4. Lawyers who monitor such cases said at the time it appeared to leave little room for similar Democratic challenges in Texas and elsewhere.

Then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia, Sandra Day O’Connor and Clarence Thomas appeared to signal they would not intervene in any cases involving redistricting done for partisan reasons.

Justice Anthony Kennedy provided a fifth vote for the majority, saying at the time that the Constitution might provide an avenue for relief in some, yet to be defined, circumstances.

Of the justices who rejected the appeal in the Pennsylvania case, Rehnquist has died, and was succeeded by Chief Justice John Roberts. O’Connor has announced her retirement, and Judge Samuel Alito’s nomination to replace her is pending in the Senate.

Paul M. Smith, a Washington lawyer who was on the losing side of the Pennsylvania case, said the facts of the Texas case might make a difference at the court. He said that because the Pennsylvania district lines were drawn quickly after the census was taken, “One of the things you couldn’t say in that case was their only reason was partisan. …

“Here we have a trial in which the state conceded that the only reason they did the case at all was partisan,” added Smith, who is also involved in the legal attack on the Texas redistricting plan.

Other reactions from ’round the blogs:

The Stakeholder has some interesting stuff from Congress DailyPM:

With scant comment, the court agreed to review the lower court ruling that dismissed a series of challenges that had been brought by opponents of the Texas plan. But its unusual step of granting two hours to hear the case provided additional evidence that the Supreme Court is taking the case seriously. In addition, the Supreme Court set a relatively speedy timetable for the case by scheduling it for March 1, according to Jerry Hebert, one of the chief lawyers for Democratic challengers to the law. “This shows that they are taking this case very seriously. There is a reasonable chance that the map could be thrown out,” said former Rep. Martin Frost, D-Texas, a key participant in three decades of Texas redistricting battles. His district in parts of Dallas and Fort Worth was largely eviscerated by DeLay’s map, and Frost was defeated for re-election last November by Republican Rep. Pete Sessions.

The Supreme Court’s order called for the two sides to prepare arguments on three key redistricting issues: whether the new map complied, as required, with the Voting Rights Act’s prohibition of racial discrimination; the constitutionality of a second redistricting within the 10-year census cycle; and whether the district lines constitute an impermissible partisan gerrymander. Adding to the suspense surrounding the Texas case is that four justices — in the minority — stated a willingness to review various constitutional issues surrounding redistricting during the court’s April 2004 rejection of a challenge to the Pennsylvania redistricting map; all remain on the court. Of four others who concluded there was no “discernible” claim against that map, then-Chief Justice Rehnquist has died, and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor announced her retirement from the court but agreed to remain on the bench until her successor is confirmed. That could increase the significance of the votes of new Chief Justice Roberts plus nominee Samuel Alito, assuming that he is confirmed before the court hears the case. Another intriguing element is that Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was the fifth vote to dismiss the Pennsylvania case, said at the time that he would not foreclose possible judicial relief in another case.

Here’s a twofer from SCOTUSBlog.

Houtopia talks about Roberts and O’Connor.

Rob Ritchie writes about The Safe Seat Pandemic (via Aaron Pena.

Matt points out that some current Democratic contenders are better positioned under this map than they would have been before, though they’re still fairly heavy underdogs.

Eye on Williamson doubts anything will change. So does Southpaw.

Drive Democracy is encouraged.

Jim Dallas talks some legalese (in the good way, of course).

Finally, beneath the fold are reactions from Chris Bell and State Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos. Click for more.


“It is clear to everyone that this is a case of corruption in the furtherance of extreme partisanship. In fact, this was a higher priority for Rick Perry and Tom DeLay than school finance reform or children¹s health care. Justice would be people choosing their representatives and not the other way around, and then maybe we could make some progress down here.”


“I’m pleased, and guardedly optimistic,” remarked State Senator Gonzalo Barrientos (D-Austin). “When we went to Washington and talked to the experts at the Department of Justice, we were sure the Texas map engineered by Tom Delay was wrong. As we know now, they agreed with us, only to be overruled by their Republican political bosses. We are still sure today, and we are also sure about what the United States Supreme Court ought to do (either reinstate the 2001 map or send this map back to the legislature with orders to start over). But, given that this is a very political court, we’ll just have to cross our fingers and hope they don’t use this as an opportunity to set a precedent that says no amount of political chicanery is too much when it comes to redistricting, regardless of its negative impact on representative government through the creation of uncompetitive districts and elections.

“Don’t get me wrong, there is reason for optimism. One of the questions the federal panel struggled with and ultimately failed to address was: in an age in which technology allows us to draw these lines so precisely that individual homes can be included in or excluded from districts, when does gerrymandering to gain political advantage go too far? The court really didn’t go down that road on their own, suggesting that they needed the guidance of the U.S. Supreme Court. Hopefully, we will receive that guidance now.

“So, what happens if they kick it back and make the legislature redraw the lines? We can draw a fair map. Believe it or not, there were some fair plans proposed last time, even by Republicans. The real problems started when Mr. Delay and the other big-time money people in the national Republican party started leaning on folks down here to pass something extraordinarily aggressive and biased. If the court tells us to get back to work, I’m ready.”

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  1. gaw says:

    I didn’t realize that the money laundering charges against Delay were the result of the redistricting battle… or is the AP reporter confusing his facts?

  2. GAW – The money laundering charge is the result of DeLay’s attempt to put not just a Republican majority in the Texas State House for the 2003 session, but a majority of people who shared his philosophy. The fact that they owed him didn’t hurt, either. So yes, the money laundering charge is related to the 2003 redistricting.

  3. Mathwiz says:

    Somehow I doubt that replacing Rehnquist with Roberts, or O’Connor with Alito, will garner the Democrats the needed fifth vote in this case. But stranger things have happened.

    A more realistic hope is Kennedy. The thing that might tip the scales, in his view, is the fact that this redistricting was not the mandatory post-census redistricting, and the respondents have conceded it was done purely for partisan gain. Those facts would have to be balanced against the fact that the redistricting didn’t result in an overwhelmingly disproportionate number of Republicans.

    If I were a lawyer for the petitioners, I’d emphasize the way the redistricting “locks in” a 2-1 GOP advantage, even if Texas trends back toward the Democrats, and the exceptional nature of a second redistricting without an intervening census. If possible, I’d also try to work in the GOP’s evident contempt for the Court-drawn redistricting as a “Democratic gerrymander” (unlikely to sit well with Supreme Court justices), and the loss of a minority-influence district (Frost’s old one). Perhaps that would convince Kennedy to overturn this very exceptional redistricting.

    Ideally, in a large state like Texas, redistricting should guarantee one or two competitive races no matter what the state’s partisan mix was. As the state’s voters trended from D to R or back again, certain districts would become “safe” for one party while other districts (that used to be “safe”) became competitive. Such a redistricting plan would approximate a proportional-representation scheme. DeLay’s scheme is far from this ideal; the original Court-drawn redistricting was closer, although the power of incumbency allowed the Democrats to overcome the voters’ pro-GOP inclinations in ’02. Thus, even if the Court does throw out DeLay’s map and reinstates the old one, it won’t be a disaster for the GOP. It’ll just give us the fighting chance we deserve. We’ll have to win those seats back the old-fashioned way: by earning the voters’ trust.

  4. T-Flip says:

    I wouldn’t pin my hopes on the Supreme Court deciding that “mid-decade” redistricting is somehow illegal. While the federal government will conduct the census and apportion representatives among the states at ten-year intervals, the power to determine how those representatives are chosen is specifically left to the states:

    “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof (Article I, sec. 4)”

    Asking the Supreme Court to usurp this power simply because they disagree with the politics involved in this one Texas case would be asking them to pull a ruling out of thin air without providing any constructive guidance on what constituted excessive partisanship in redistricting.