The Supreme Court handed Democrats a victory Monday, ordering a lower court to reconsider a Texas redistricting plan that could give Republicans six more seats and a firmer hold on their majority in the House.
The decision won’t affect next month’s elections, though any GOP gains on Nov. 2 could be wiped out later if the plan ultimately is deemed unconstitutional.
In a brief order, justices threw out a victory for Texas Republican legislators, and ordered a three-judge federal panel in Texas to reconsider the issue.
“I see this as the Supreme Court punting right before the national election,” said Richard Hasen, an election law expert at Loyola Law School. “It buys the Supreme Court another term before it has to rethink the issue. Maybe by then we’ll have a new justice or two.”
The Supreme Court has been divided on how much politics should be allowed in redistricting. In a 5-4 ruling last spring, justices left a narrow opening for challenges claiming party politics overly influenced election maps.
The court said Monday that the Texas map should be viewed again, in light of that decision.
The three-judge panel that upheld the map in January said that Congress — not courts — has the power to bar states from redrawing districts over and over. That panel will reconsider its decision.
The cases are Jackson v. Perry, 03-1391; American GI Forum of Texas v. Perry, 03-1396; Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee v. Perry, 03-1399; Travis County v. Perry, 03-1400; and Henderson v. Perry, 03-9644.
I do not believe that any GOP gains from the new map would be erased if it is eventually thrown out and the old map is restored. Other than Martin Frost, every single one of the endangered Democratic incumbents plus the retiring Jim Turner had been winning in districts that ran the gamut from lean-GOP to strong-GOP for years now. Once the advantage of their incumbency was removed, however, they’d have a very tough time winning it back, even in the old familiar places. And that was the point. As long as that new map was in place for this election, its main goal was accomplished. Democrats can mitigate that by holding at least some of their current offices (you can help, of course), but there’s nothing that any court can do now that will change the fundamental dynamic.