Who Really Won?

Monday, December 12, 2005

Revisiting Redistricting

The Supreme Court today agreed to consider arguments by Democrats and minorities against a controversial Republican redistricting plan, spearheaded by Rep. Tom DeLay, that redrew congressional boundaries in Texas and helped the GOP gain House seats in last year's elections.

The high court consolidated four separate appeals in the matter, noted "probable jurisdiction" and allotted two hours for oral arguments in the case. The arguments are likely to be heard in April, and a decision could be rendered by the end of June.

In agreeing to hear arguments in the case, the Supreme Court will review a ruling by a three-judge panel that allowed the 2003 redrawing of the Texas congressional districts. The panel rejected challenges to the constitutionality of the new boundaries by plaintiffs who contended they illegally diminished minority voting rights and constituted unlawful partisan gerrymandering.

The redistricting was approved by the Justice Department over the objections of the department's own staff lawyers, The Washington Post reported earlier this month.

According to a previously undisclosed memo, six lawyers and two analysts in the department's voting section found that the redistricting plan violated the Voting Rights Act by illegally diluting black and Hispanic voting power in two congressional districts, but senior Justice Department officials overruled them and approved the plan. The lawyers' memo also said the plan eliminated several other districts in which minorities had a substantial, though not necessarily decisive, influence in elections.

Delay (R-Tex.), then the House majority leader, was a primary instigator of the redistricting. In October 2003, he was admonished by the bipartisan House ethics committee for his role in muscling the new boundaries through the Texas legislature. The committee expressed concern that DeLay had pressured the Federal Aviation Administration, the FBI and other federal agencies in 2003 to help locate Democratic legislators who had fled Texas in an effort to head off the redistricting by denying the state's legislature a quorum.

DeLay was indicted this fall on conspiracy and money laundering charges in connection with corporate campaign contributions that were allegedly directed to GOP candidates for the Texas legislature in 2002 in violation of state law. The funds were intended to help the Republicans win control of the legislature, which would then be able to redraw the state's congressional districts with the aim of increasing the party's majority in the U.S. House.

The indictment forced DeLay to give up his post as majority leader. The Texas lawmaker denounced the charges as a partisan vendetta and vowed to regain his leadership post once he was exonerated.

But a Texas judge dealt those hopes a setback last week by refusing DeLay's motion to dismiss all the charges. The judge threw out a conspiracy count but let stand a more serious charge of money laundering.

Before the redistricting, Texas's 32 House seats were evenly split at 16-16 between Republicans and Democrats. As a result of the new boundaries, Republicans picked up five seats in the November 2004 elections.