Supreme Confusion On Redistricting
The long-awaited U.S. Supreme Court review of the Tom Delay-orchestrated re-redistricting of Texas congressional districts finally came down today, and a splintered Court continued its recent habit of disarray on redistricting principles.
It's clear a sizeable majority of the Court has decided that mid-decade reversals of redistricting plans are not barred by the federal constitutution, and a less-sizeable majority refuses to consider re-redistricting as grounds for strong suspicion that illicit political gerrymandering has occurred. But the Court appears to be all over the place, as it has been for more than a decade, in determining when if ever political gerrymandering can violate the Constitution.
Meanwhile, a 5-4 majority of the Court ruled than one of the districts in the DeLay Map violates the Voting Right Act as a straightforward dilution of Hispanic voting strength. But the decision about how to deal with it was dumped back to a District Court in Texas, which must now decide whether there is anything they can do about it between now and November. Obviously, fixing one district could affect many others.
You have to try, as I did, to slog through the whole 132 pages of concurring and dissenting opinions to see how divided and tentative the Court is on this whole subject. I'm no fancified constitutional or elections lawyer, and praise the Lord I left behind this sort of preoccupation when I decided to go into politics, but still, you don't have to put "Esquire" after your signature to figure out when the Supremes are a herd of kitty-cats.
More troubling is the fact that the ruling on re-redistricting may not get the attention it deserves in political circles because it's becoming moot for this particular decade.
Looking back, Republicans got away with re-redistrictings in Texas and Georgia. Democrats tried to retaliate in Ohio and Florida, but the former effort failed dismally last year at the ballot box, while the latter foundered in the Florida courts (it could possibly be revived and placed on the ballot in 2008, but that's awfully close to the next regularly scheduled redistricting anyway). A Republican-backed California re-redistricting measure also failed last year, but that was a bit of a special case, since it was poorly designed, and in any event was backed by a lot of non-Republicans.
But no one should forget that the one place in which a DeLay-style GOP partisan re-redistricting foundered was Colorado, for the simple reason that the state's own constitution banned mid-decade redistricting. Looking ahead to the next decade, states should strongly consider emulating Colorado's ban on the practice of overturning congressional and state legislative maps every time partisan control of state government solidifies or flips. No one can any longer foster the illusion that the U.S. Supreme Court will do anything to stop the madness. --