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Supreme Court to review Texas political map

DeLay promoted second redistricting plan that helped GOP

From Bill Mears
CNN Washington Bureau

The justices will likely hear arguments in April.


Supreme Court
Justice Department

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Supreme Court decided Monday to hear a group of cases involving a Texas redistricting plan that gave the GOP six additional congressional seats.

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.

The Texas Legislature adopted the plan in 2003 after three contentious special sessions called by Republican Gov. Rick Perry. Angry Democratic legislators twice left the state en masse, denying the GOP a quorum to proceed.

DeLay, who represents a Houston-area district, ultimately helped negotiate a redistricting plan, which was quickly challenged in court by Democrats and several minority rights groups.

The congressman stepped down as House majority leader in October after being indicted by a state grand jury on money laundering charges, which he has denied.

The newly drawn districts helped Republicans gain a majority of the state's 32 congressional seats. Before the 2004 elections, the GOP held 15 seats; it now has 21.

Opponents challenging the redistricting plan allege it moved 8 million people into new districts and relied on inaccurate census data.

The challenges also led to infighting in the U.S. Justice Department, which under the 1965 Voting Rights Act oversees congressional redistricting in Texas and other states, primarily in the South, because of their history of minority voter discrimination.

A number of career lawyers at the department concluded the plan would hurt minority voters, but political appointees overruled them, and the department ultimately approved the Texas effort.

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.

"The map was pre-cleared by the Justice Department, and a three-judge federal panel determined that it did not harm minority rights, and no appeals of the decision have been successful," said Kevin Maddem, a congressional spokesman for DeLay.

"The effort to deliver a new congressional map was founded in the belief that a history of gerrymandering efforts by Democrats in Texas had resulted in an unfair representation of Texas voters."

Federal courts have also backed the plan on several occasions, saying it does not violate federal voting rights law.

In making its decision, the Supreme Court will likely rely on a ruling last year in a similar case from Pennsylvania.

The justices in a divided opinion upheld that state's Republican-drawn plan and in doing so severely restricted challenges based on claims of political gerrymandering.

The Texas cases are likely to be just as contentious and could have implications beyond that state's borders. Georgia and Colorado also have adopted a second round of congressional redistricting.

Texas congressional candidates in next year's midterm elections could be affected by the court's ruling, expected by the end of June.

The cases have been scheduled on an expedited basis, signaling the importance for the high court to decide the matter relatively quickly.

The Texas cases are League of United Latin v. Perry (05-0204); Travis County v. Perry (04-0254); Jackson, Eddie v. Perry (05-0276); and GI Forum of Texas v. Perry (05-0439).

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