June 28, 2006

A Victory For Texas

And I do call it a victory for Texas, despite the 5-4 majority deciding against the boundaries of CD23. It affirms that the 2003 redistricting was legal and that the use of partisan criteria in redistricting is not invalid. Even with regard to the CD23 boundaries, the slim majority had to engage in the unusual tactic of overturning a finding of fact when a simple analysis of the district based upon law and precedent failed to find a violation of the Voting Rights Act.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld most of the Republican-boosting Texas congressional map engineered by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay but threw out part, saying some of the new boundaries failed to protect minority voting rights.

The fractured decision was a small victory for Democratic and minority groups who accused Republicans of an unconstitutional power grab in drawing boundaries that booted four Democratic incumbents from office.

And for those of you who cannot read, that means that the redistricting plan met every CONSTITUTIONAL challenge, and the loss came on questions of statutory interpretation, not bad intent.

The result of this is likely to be the redrawing of district lines in two or three districts in the largely empty southwestern part of the state. Indeed, this may well be seen as a net-loss for minorities, given that the likely result will be a reduction in the number of seats over which Hispanics have control of the outcome. So congratulations, amigos, you just shot yourselves in the huevos!

Not that LULAC sees it that way.

"We see this as a very major victory for the Latino community, which is the main reason we were in this case," said attorney Rolando Rios, who represented the League of United Latin American Citizens. "Latinos are responsible for the fastest growth in Texas and the state of Texas refused to give us another district."

But that raises an interesting question – how do we deal with the fact that drawing lines with an eye towards partisan advantage has racial/ethnic implications? The majority effectively conceded that the goal was not racial or ethnic discrimination, but bringing electoral outcomes into line with the partisan preferences of voters. In seeking to preserve the seat of a (Hispanic) GOP incumbent, lines were drawn for partisan advantage – but the result was the removal of Democrats of a particular ethnic group (the region is overwhelmingly Hispanic) and their replacement with white Republicans. Must every change now be made in a race-conscious manner, even if the goal has nothing to do with race?

The exact impact and the timetable are still up in the air.

Experts were still poring over the 130-page opinion to determine how Texas will have to remedy the deficiencies. But each party in the litigation is expected to return to the original panel of three federal judges in Texas with their suggested solutions. And new primaries could be ordered for any district that is substantially altered.

Nina Perales, the lawyer for Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which challenged the map, pronounced the decision historic for Latino voters in particular. She said the decision confirms that lawmakers cannot "roll over minority voting rights" to protect incumbents or promote partisan gains.

She said there is no way to predict how many districts might be affected by the ripple effect of fixing District 23.

I think that Ms. Perales' statement is a bit overblown. Having found the boundaries of 31 districts to be acceptable (well, 30, given the implications of the statements about CD25), the solution should not involve major surgery to the map. In all probability, the solution will involve putting Laredo back into CD23 and shifting a number of low-population counties into neighboring districts to compensate. After all, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbot makes a crucial point.

"Today, the United States Supreme Court conclusively rejected broad challenges to the Texas congressional redistricting plan," he said in a written statement. "Although one district must be partially redrawn, the overall contours of the map adopted by the Texas Legislature were affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court."

The immediate impact here in Texas is important. I agree with this unfriendly commentator from Dallas.

However, the bottom line in Wednesday's decision is that virtually all of the districts drawn by the Republican-controlled Legislature will remain in place until the next census. That virtually guarantees the GOP will be able to retain close to the 21-11 margin it gained when they were implemented two years ago.

It also means that those GOP-controlled districts would be the starting point when the post-2010 Legislature considers the issue after the next census. Barring an unexpected Democratic capture of at least one legislative house and the governorship, or both legislative houses, the GOP will be able to keep its majority for the ensuing decade.

Ultimately, of course, Democrats hope that changing population trends, mainly the rising Hispanic population, will translate at the polls into the votes that will enable them to reduce or eliminate Republican majorities.

But just as Democrats were able to maintain their hold on many congressional districts after the state started to trend Republican, the GOP probably will be able to do so until its veteran incumbents retire and a transformed population elects different representatives.

While those demographic changes trend Democrat, that may not even help them. After all, if the growth of Hispanic population is primarily in urban areas, it may serve to create districts which, like majority black districts in many parts of the country, are 70% or more minority due to population density. It also presumes that these ethnic groups will remain serfs on the Democrat manor-- and I do not believe that the competing interests of Hispanic and Affrican-American communities will allow for the sort of long-term political alliance necessary for Democrat hegemony to permanently reassert itself in this state.

UPDATE: I got a nasty email from someone about -- *yawn* -- "racist neo-klan rethugs" disenfranchising minorities and violating the Constitution. However I suggest those who hold such beliefs to go back and re-read (or probably read for the first time) the Kennedy opinion. It seems pretty clear that the division of Laredo to preserve a Republicn incumbent would have been perfectly acceptable had the residents of Laredo been white Democrats and not Hispanic ones. It is only the statutory scheme set up in the VRA that gave special consideration to these Democrats based upon their race, even if race was not the major factor in the drawing of the line. Would you like to talk about equal protection of the law -- or is that an outmoded concept for you?

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