The 2003 boundaries helped Republicans win 21 of the state's 32 seats in Congress in the last election— up from 15. They were approved amid a nasty battle between Republican leaders and Democrats and minority groups in Texas.SCOTUSblog says this is a surprise, because "the Court had never asked for a response from the state of Texas, which had waived that opportunity, and the Court had examined the question of hearing the cases six different times at its private conferences."
The contentiousness also reached Washington, where the Justice Department approved the plan although staff lawyers concluded that it diluted minority voting rights. Because of historic discrimination against minority voters, Texas is required to get Justice Department approval for any voting changes to ensure they don't undercut minority voting....
The legal battle at the Supreme Court was over the unusual timing of the Texas redistricting, among other things. Under the Constitution, states must adjust their congressional district lines every 10 years to account for population shifts.
But in Texas the boundaries were redrawn twice after the 2000 census, first by a court, then by state lawmakers in a second round promoted by DeLay.
Of the seven pending cases challenging the plan, the Court agreed to hear four. Those four raise all of the key issues, including whether the Court can fashion a standard for judging when partisan gerrymandering is excessive, and whether it is unconstitutional for a state to undertake a new round of congressional redistricting within the same decade when a valid plan is already in place. In addition, the cases raise issues about race and ethnic bias in some of the new district boundary line-drawing. The three cases the Court did not grant raised overlapping issues.Setting a standard for the judicial scrutiny of gerrymandering is a problem that has dogged the Court. But as long as it is staying in the business of monitoring political redistricting, it seems necessary for it to take a case of this importance. Perhaps it will use this occasion, however, to set a clear standard for bowing out of these controversies altogether.