Monday, December 12, 2005

Supreme Court to examine Texas redistricting ...

The topic of redistricting is an extremely tough, complex nut to crack when breaking it down for the public. Which is sad commentary considering its critical importance, particularly to the African American electorate and it's rapidly growing political class. We agree that hearings are needed, if only to simply educate the public.

It's a very involved and deliberative science that involves the cunning re-shifting, re-drawing and re-building of political districts in any given state, based - of course - on the whims of the reigning political party in that state. It's a commonplace legislative procedure, a frequent chess game between opposing partisans, but the degree of controversy surrounding redistricting typically depends on the size, electoral significance and cultural make-up of the state. Such is the case with Texas, as reports:

Justices will likely hear the cases in April to consider whether redrawing the districts reduced minority voting strength.

The cases also involve the question of whether courts can remedy excessive gerrymandering and if states can redraw congressional maps twice in the same decade when a valid plan exists.

The four consolidated appeals stem from Texas legislative action in 2003 that led to the defeat of five Democratic incumbents in Congress the next year and sparked a bitter partisan battle.
The U.S. Constitution requires states to reapportion their congressional districts every 10 years based on population changes in the most recent census.

After the 2000 census, a state court redrew the state map with help from state lawmakers.
After Republicans gained control of the state Legislature in 2002, however, U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay promoted a second redistricting.

Delay's name is what really adds spice to this case, as there is a sudden spotlight on redistricting issues. However, beyond that, it places Black Congressional Democrats in a tough spot:

Republicans counter the plan was a legitimate exercise in legislative authority and that the changes led to the 2004 election of another African-American, Rep. Al Green. Two other black female Texans already served in Congress.

Dan Egen in the Washington Post reports on 12.10.05:

The Justice Department has barred staff attorneys from offering recommendations in major Voting Rights Act cases, marking a significant change in the procedures meant to insulate such decisions from politics, congressional aides and current and former employees familiar with the issue said.

Disclosure of the change comes amid growing public criticism of Justice Department decisions to approve Republican-engineered plans in Texas and Georgia that were found to hurt minority voters by career staff attorneys who analyzed the plans. Political appointees overruled staff findings in both cases.

As far as Texas is concerned, that's a hard case to argue if the Delay Plan was somehow responsible for adding another Black Congressional member to the Texas delegation.