Supremes Uphold and Strike Down Texas Redistricting

The Supreme Court today ruled on the controversial mid-cycle redistricting of Texas’ U.S. House seats. WaPo puts the headline “Court Nixes Part of Texas Political Map” on Gina Holland’s AP story which begins, “The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld most of the Republican-boosting Texas congressional map engineered by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay but threw out part, saying some of the new boundaries failed to protect minority voting rights.”

Clearly, both sides will claim victory and privately be miffed by the ruling. In the short term, though, the GOP comes out ahead:

The fractured decision was a small victory for Democratic and minority groups who accused Republicans of an unconstitutional power grab in drawing boundaries that booted four Democratic incumbents from office.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority, said Hispanics do not have a chance to elect a candidate of their choosing under the plan. The vote was 5-4 on that issue. Republicans picked up six Texas congressional seats two years ago, and the court’s ruling does not seriously threaten those gains. Lawmakers, however, will have to adjust boundary lines to address the court’s concerns.

At issue was the shifting of 100,000 Hispanics out of a district represented by a Republican incumbent and into a new, oddly shaped district. Foes of the plan had argued that that was an unconstitutional racial gerrymander under the Voting Rights Act, which protects minority voting rights.

On a different matter, the court ruled 7-2 that state legislators may draw new maps as often as they like _ not just once a decade as Texas Democrats claimed. That means Democratic and Republican state lawmakers can push through new maps anytime there is a power shift at a state capital. [All emphases mine]

That state legislatures have that power is obvious from a reading of the Constitution. (See my December 2005 post on that score.) That it’s a horribly, horribly bad idea is something that most neutral observers agree on, however. It’s a short-term gain for the GOP–and perhaps a decisive one with the House in the balance this November–but a precedent that will only exacerbate the ugliness that characterizes our party politics of late.

Elsewhere:

  • Lyle Denniston has some interesting analysis on this case and others handed down today.
  • Howard Bashman has links to this and other decisions and various press coverage.
  • Rick Hasen posts the Texas decision is PDF format here.
  • Steve Benen: “This very well may turn out to be one of those be-careful-what-you-wish-for moments for the Republican Party.”

UPDATE: My now-coblogger Chris Lawrence observed way back in September 2003:

I’m all for anything that either (a) gets the Supreme Court to finally have the guts to declare that blatant partisan gerrymandering is as unconstitutional on equal protection grounds as blatant racial gerrymandering or (b) makes Congress repeal the single-member district requirement for House districts (which makes these absurd gerrymanders possible in the first place).

Maybe one day.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.