Interesting. I’ve made it known many times previously that I think gerrymandered voting districts are among the biggest items undermining our representative government (the other two being empowered bureaucrats and activist judges), so I will be highly interested in the outcome of this case.
The USSC has stayed out of fights over gerrymandering in the past at least partly because of the difficulty of crafting a solution - in hearing the case perhaps they have a solution, or perhaps they want to announce a principle under which they will continue to avoid the issue going forward (kind of like “political question” doctrine).
I would hope that any solution would ban racial gerrymandering as well.
Anyway, here’s the AP story on the announcement:
Supreme Court to Review
December 12, 2005 11:03 a.m.
The Supreme Court said Monday it would consider the constitutionality of a Texas congressional map engineered by Rep. Tom DeLay that helped Republicans gain seats in Congress.
The 2003 boundaries helped Republicans win 21 of the state’s 32 seats in Congress in the last election – up from 15. They were approved amid a nasty battle between Republican leaders and Democrats and minority groups in Texas.
The contentiousness also reached Washington, where the Justice Department approved the plan, even though staff lawyers concluded that it diluted minority voting rights. Because of historic discrimination against minority voters, Texas is required to get Justice Department approval for any voting changes to ensure they don’t undercut minority voting.
Justices will consider a constitutional challenge to the boundaries filed by various opponents. The court will hear two hours of arguments, likely in April, in four separate appeals.
The legal battle at the Supreme Court was over the unusual timing of the Texas redistricting, among other things. Under the Constitution, states must adjust their congressional district lines every 10 years to account for population shifts. But in Texas the boundaries were redrawn twice after the 2000 census, first by a court, then by state lawmakers in a second round promoted by Mr. DeLay.
Mr. DeLay had to step down as House Majority Leader earlier this year after he was indicted in Texas on state money-laundering charges. He and two people who oversaw his fundraising activities are accused of funneling prohibited corporate political money through the national Republican Party to state Republican legislative candidates. Texas law prohibits spending corporate money on the election or defeat of a candidate.
The alleged scheme was part of a plan Mr. DeLay helped set in motion to help Republicans win control of the Texas House in 2002 elections. The Republican Legislature then adopted a DeLay-backed congressional voting-district map. The new map was used in 2004 elections, and Texas elected one additional black congressman besides the six additional Republican members. Of the 32 seats, six delegation members are Hispanic and three are black.
Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, called lawmakers back for three special sessions in 2003 to tackle the map, despite vehement opposition from Democrats who walked out and even left the state to halt progress. In the end, Mr. DeLay brokered a redistricting agreement.
Mr. DeLay was later rebuked by the House Ethics Committee for using the Federal Aviation Administration to track down a private plane that shuttled some Democratic lawmakers out of the state.
The Texas case has been to the Supreme Court once before, and justices ordered a lower court to reconsider the boundaries following a decision in another redistricting case from Pennsylvania. Justices in that opinion left little room for lawsuits claiming that political gerrymandering – drawing a map to give one political party an advantage – violates the “one-person, one-vote” principle protected in the Constitution.
However, now the court will have a chance to revisit that issue and the outcome could change because the court’s membership is changing. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is retiring, and Chief Justice John Roberts has been on the bench just a few months.
A lower court panel ruled that the map isn’t unconstitutional and doesn’t violate federal voting-rights law.
After Texas decided to redraw its lines, two other states _ Colorado and Georgia _ also undertook a second round of redistricting.
Paul M. Smith, a Washington attorney representing challengers to the Texas map, told justices that the redoing of maps “is a symptom of the excessively partisan approach to redistricting now in vogue.”
“When legislators choose to take such actions, they should be required to demonstrate some legitimate governmental purpose,” he wrote in a filing. (League of United Latin v. Perry; Travis County v. Perry; Jackson v. Perry; GI Forum of Texas v. Perry)
Also, here’s what they had to say about the USSC taking the case on the SCOTUS blog:
[i]Of the seven pending cases challenging the plan, the Court agreed to hear four. Those four raise all of the key issues at stake, including whether the Court can fashion a standard for judging when partisan gerrymandering is excessive, and whether it is unconstitutional for a state to undertake a new round of congressional redistricting within the same decade when a valid plan is already in place. In addition, the cases raise issues about race and ethnic bias in some of the new district boundary line-drawing. The three cases the Court did not grant raised overlapping issues.
Basically, the questions posed by the four cases break down broadly into four general areas of inquiry: validity of partisan gerrymanders, treatment of minorities under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, constitutionality of drawing bizarre districts in dealing with minority voters, and number limits on creation of minority-controlled districts. The Court did not rewrite the questions, thus leaving some confusion in defining what it will decide. A decisive negative ruling on any of the four general areas, though, presumably could invalidate the entire 2003 Texas plan, because all of its parts are interacting.[/i]