A high-stakes redistricting case is pushing the US Supreme Court
into politically charged territory.
At issue: whether Republican tactics to redraw Texas
congressional districts in 2003 violated election laws or the US
A decision by the high court, which hears the case Wednesday,
could have far-reaching political consequences.
Striking down the redistricting plan, which helped give the GOP a
near 2-to-1 advantage over Democrats in the Texas congressional
delegation, could bring as many as six congressional seats into play
for the Democrats. They hope to seize control of the US House of
Representatives in November. Upholding the plan, however, could
unleash a new round of increasingly aggressive efforts by both
Republicans and Democrats around the country to use partisan
gerrymandering to try to establish one-party domination of local,
state, and national politics.
"If the decision from Texas is upheld, it means effectively that
state legislators can, at their will, redraw districts for purely
partisan or special interest gain," says Steve Bickerstaff, a
professor at the University of Texas School of Law and author of an
upcoming book on the Texas redistricting effort.
Both sides bring sharply divergent perspectives about the case to
the high court.
Lawyers for the Republicans say the redistricting plan was an
effort to counteract decades of blatant partisan gerrymandering by
Democrats when they controlled politics in Texas.
"This case is fundamentally about democracy," says Texas
Solicitor General R. Ted Cruz in his brief to the court.
"Nonsense," replies Paul Smith in his brief on behalf of Texas
Democrats. "This was not some bipartisan effort to reallocate
districts equitably," he writes. "Orchestrated from Washington, it
was one of the most notorious partisan power grabs in our history."
The saga of the Republican plan to redraw Texas voting districts
has more twists and turns than a rattlesnake on hot asphalt. A
primary architect of the plan, then House majority leader Tom DeLay,
has since stepped down from his powerful post. He is facing both a
tough reelection effort and a pending indictment on charges that he
funneled illegal campaign contributions to Republican statehouse
candidates who later voted for the redistricting plan.
Once Republicans took control of the Texas statehouse and redrew
the political map of Texas, Democrats responded by going into hiding
- twice - to prevent a quorum. First they retreated to Oklahoma, and
later hid out in New Mexico.
Ultimately the plan was approved. The new districts replaced a
plan drafted by a three-judge panel in 2001 after lawmakers had
deadlocked on how best to redraw the Texas districts. …