December 12, 2005

The Supreme Court will hear the Texas redistricting case.

The Dallas Morning News reports:
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.

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.
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."
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.

14 comments:

Simon said...

This is going to be interesting, because two members of Justice Scalia's Vieth (541 U.S. 267) plurality will be gone by the time the case is handed down, Rehnquist and O'Connor. Given that the judiciary committee has already committed itself to asking Alito questions about Reynolds and Baker, and given the short focus of most Senators, this case's presence on the docket will likely make questions about redistricting predominant at the Alito hearings, n'est ce pas?

vnjagvet said...

This case seems to present a good opportunity to observe the new Chief's small group dynamic skills and his analytical prowress.

Ann Althouse said...

Vnjagvet: Yes, exactly. We will be watching for a demonstration of the Chief's powers, which I imagine to be very great.

vnjagvet said...

Oops, prowess, not prowess.

John(classic) said...

I am amazed at how the news reports leave out what seems to me the most salient fact.

The staff memo predicted reduced minority representation.

They were wrong.

The election results under the new plan were an additional black representative and an additional hispanic.

Pooh said...

John,

That is interesting, I was not aware of that. Though it is also not neccesarily determinative. It's not hard to imagine a 'gaming of the system' by a party to show no short term retrogression in terms of 'minority officials'. I'm not saying that's what happened, because I have no info on the ground.

dick said...

I find it funny that they are complaining about the gerrymandering of this state since the result ended up mirroring the voting patterns of the state far more closely than the previous redistricting did and also ended up with more minority representation.

Truly said...

Texas Democrats call Republican gerrymandering "unfair"--which is pretty rich considering it's the same thing the Democrats did for decades before they lost control of the legislature. Evidently their taste for hypocrisy really knows no limits.

Simon said...

"The staff memo predicted reduced minority representation. They were wrong."

No they weren't. The Democrats won fewer seats! ;)

Not the Senator said...

The unique issue in Texas looks to be redistricting every time the State Legislature changed hands. It's required every 10 years after the Census but doing it more often, and only for partisan political purposes, is unprecedented in the last century. And has never been done under the Voting Rights Act.

brylin said...

"Is the regular insertion of the judiciary into districting, with the delay and uncertainty that brings to the political process and the partisan enmity it brings upon the courts, worth the benefit to be achieved?"

brylin said...

Will Justice Kennedy be swayed by the fact that the court-ordered plan was replaced by a partisan one? Where Kennedy is on this case is the Supreme question.

It only takes 4 votes to accept the case and it would be very interesting to find out who voted here (where is Underneath Their Robes when you need her/him?).

My bet is Justices Ginsburg, Stevens, Souter and Breyer.

My bet is, too, that the differing rules proposed by members of this group in their dissenting opinions in Vieth will suddenly disappear if Kennedy has reached a standard.

ChrisO said...

I believe the idea of minority representation means that minorities get to vote their preference, not that a minority gets elected. It's somewhat paternalistic to claim that minorities enjoy equal representation because someone the same color as them was elected. The implication is that minorities don't want to elect someone who will represent their interests, they just want someone who looks like them.

brylin said...

With all the attention focused on recent CIA leaks, it is interesting to note with respect to this subject that the Justice Department is leaky as well (scroll to the end of the Update).