Stephen Green laments a federal court ruling upholding the Texas legislature’s mid-decade redrawing of its congressional districts.

What the Republicans have done is throw away 200-plus years of national precedent: we only redistrict after a census. Should the Democrats take charge, even for a single session, you can bet they’ll go for some sweet, sweet payback.

Short term gain: Republicans will get 5-7 new safe seats in Texas.

Long-term loss: This will come back to bite them on the ass.

Damage done: Now every state will be going through nasty redistricting fights, every time the majority changes. Currently, we only have to go through these fights every ten years, and usually only in states which gain or lose seat in Congress. “Now,” said the sage, “things will be worse.”

I agree that this was rather unseemly (see here, here, here, and here) –since it took advantage of big Republican wins in 2002 to accomplish–but the circumstances were quite unusual. As WaPo noted,

States are required to redraw their congressional and legislative district lines every 10 years following the census. In 2001, Texas Democrats and Republicans could not agree on a plan, throwing the issue into federal court, where a three-judge panel crafted the existing congressional districts that were used in the 2002 elections.

Democrats emerged from the 2002 elections with a 17-to-15 advantage in the state’s delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives. But the same year Republicans took complete control of the state legislature, allowing them to enact new district lines that favor the GOP.

So, while unusual, the 2003 re-redistricting was the first legislatively created one ratified by the courts.

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James Joyner
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James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies 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.


  1. norbizness says:

    James: In an excerpted paragraph to put 2001 into perspective:

    “As for the 2001 standoff, Senator Sibley (R) torpedoed a potential deal at the behest of Governor Perry. Governor Perry then allowed the matter to be settled by the Legislative Redistricting Board (4 Republicans, including Cornyn and Dewhurst, and 1 Democrat). Their plan was, in essence, approved by the Federal Courts in 2001. Most importantly, Perry DID NOT CALL a special session in 2001, because the Republican leadership thought they would get a better deal in federal court and with the Voting Rights Act approval of the Bush Justice Department.”


    In essence, Gov. Perry and the rest of the Republican leadership got what they wanted in 2001. However, blue dog Democrats unexpectedly won five seats, giving the Democrats a 17-15 advantage (in other words, the GOP could have been up 20-12). No doubt this whole sorry episode wouldn’t have happened had that occurred.

    The solution: redraw again and make the GOP districts even more safe… some would say competition-proof.

  2. whatever says:

    So should a Republican-majority State send a majority of Democrats to the House?

    Is Texas a majority Republican state? All state office holders. Both senators. Every presidential election since 1980. So yes.

    So those democrats who believe that a republican state should have a majority of democrats in the house aren’t being democratic, are they?

  3. norbizness says:

    Whatever: I realize that I don’t have a right to have my initial comment read, but I’ll try again with the expert who actually assisted the GOP in getting the 2001 plan through the courts…


    “The map drawn earlier this year by GOP members of the Texas Legislature attempts to “produce an outcome of an election” without regard to the wishes of the voters, said John Alford, political science professor at Rice University and longtime redistricting expert for the state… Republicans could have easily won more seats under the current map, but lost to Democrats in many cases because of poorly run campaigns, Alford said.”

  4. James Joyner says:

    Nor: As to your first post, I haven’t read the report and don’t have the energy to do so at the moment, but your account strikes me as plausible.

    As to your second point, I guess it’s irrelevant since both parties in all states have been gerrymandering for decades. I don’t like it and think it causes some strange outcomes and limits voter choices, but it’s not out of bounds unless done for mostly racial reasons under the case law.

  5. bryan says:

    Texas has always had some of the worst-drawn districts. It’s been gerrymandered forever – especially for racial reasons. Ask Al Price, D-Beaumont, of the state legislature.

    Indeed, it was soon after the last 1990 redrawing that Jack Brooks, longtime D from Beaumont, lost his seat to an upstart crank R from south Houston, which was staunchly conservative. He had long had a blue-collar, union base which was upset by the addition of the tech heavy Houston addition. And that was with the Dems doing the redrawing.

  6. tvdaustin says:

    Chiming in here from the Lone Star Capitol. Gerrymandering or not, the Republican mandate from Washington to “deliver” the Texas map was a bloodbath we will not soon recover from. Throwing our future out with the bathwater, if the Repub plan to eliminate Dem Reps in the US House is successful we will loose all our state’s senior members serving on the Congressional Arms and Agriculture Committees. This bodes poorly for a military/ag industrial complex such as we are. As a citizen of this state I resent having that representation tossed to the side to please Tom DeLay and the pressure from the RNC.

  7. JKing says:

    The fear of frequent mid-decade redistricting is unfounded. It would only occur when the entire legislature and governorship pass into the control of one party mid-decade, AND the existing map is sufficiently non-representative that significant gains are feasible. Texas was such a case because the Democrats so cleverly gerrymandered the map in 1991 that despite not winning a statewide election since 1994, they still retained a majority of the delegation through the 2002 election. Otherwise, how many other states would have this situation? Virtually none.