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House: All Eyes on the Texas Case

Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has heard oral arguments on the Texas congressional redistricting case, partisans on both sides are waiting expectantly for the justices' decision, which could influence the fight for control come November.

Early returns don't appear promising for Democrats, as The Washington Post's own Charles Lane reported this morning that the "justices seemed likely to let stand all or most of [Texas Rep. Tom] DeLay's handiwork." The New York Times drew a similar conclusion in its story, saying, "It appeared unlikely by the end of the intense two-hour argument that a majority of the court would overturn the 2003 redistricting plan, or any other plan, for that matter, as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander."

In a post-argument briefing yesterday organized by the Lone Star Project, Paul Smith, who argued the plaintiffs' challenge to the Texas map, had a different take. "They are going to find some kind of way to throw this map out," Smith said to an audience that included three former Texas lawmakers who lost their seats in 2004 in part due to the new congressional map. "I am reasonably hopeful for a positive outcome," he said

If Texas Republicans had not redrawn their state's congressional lines in 2003, it's likely that Democrats would have as many as five or six additional members in the U.S. House. The map helped defeat Reps. Martin Frost, Max Sandlin, Ken Bentsen, Nick Lampson, Charlie Stenholm and Chris Bell. It also provided the impetus for Rep. Ralph Hall to switch parties and Rep. Jim Turner to retire. Without their gains in Texas, House Republicans would not have picked up seats in the 2004 election.

If, as expected, the Supreme Court makes minor changes to the Texas map rather than invalidating the entirety of it, Democrats will continue to face a tough task in picking up the 15 seats they need this fall to reclaim a majority. If the lines remain essentially unchanged, only two races in the state are likely to be competitive -- the reelection contests of DeLay in the 22nd District and Democrat Chet Edwards in the 17th District.

DeLay's ongoing legal problems have created a dangerous political environment for him in the Houston-area district he has held since 1984. Edwards was the only one of the Democrats targeted in the GOP-led redistricting to survive the 2004 election, and Republicans are again targeting him.

What happens if the Texas map gets thrown out altogether? Recent history would provide Democrats with a glimmer of hope. In June 1996, the Supreme Court ruled that three districts in Texas had been crafted with a too-singular focus on race. Two months later a federal court -- in response to the higher court's ruling -- redrew 13 of the 30 districts despite the fact that primaries had already occurred based on the old map. The primary results were discarded, and special November elections were called in the affected districts. If no candidate received 50 percent in November, runoffs were held in December.

If that happened again, Democrats would at least have a shot at reclaiming a handful of Texas seats that are not considered competitive in 2006.

For a fun look at yesterday's court hearing, read Dana Milbank's Washington Sketch: The Justices Look at Some Shapely ... Congressional Districts.

By Chris Cillizza  |  March 2, 2006; 11:54 AM ET
Categories:  House  
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funny ringtones

Posted by: | August 23, 2006 9:11 AM | Report abuse

If the Supreme Court votes not to overturn the Texas re-districting, it looks like a Win-Lose to me. Win for whichever party is in power in a given state; Lose for the general population as a whole. Those people with beanies with proplellers on top who pushed this through are going to regret it eventually when they become the victims, and then holler.

Sounds like one of their favorite vehicles for social change is needed - a Constitutional Amendment. One which would actually benefit everyone, not divide everyone. An Amendment which would limit re-districting to only once every ten years based on the Decennial Census; or once every five years base on the interim Census data. Otherwise "political instability" will become the rule nationally.

As George Will might say, the Republicans who pushed through and now defend the Texas re-districting will eventually be victims of it based on "The Law of Unintended Consequences."

Posted by: Vienna Voter | March 3, 2006 1:38 PM | Report abuse

I don't know if any of you live in Texas, but please consider how this would make you feel as an American of legal age to vote. As a Democrat in one of DeLay's gerrymandered districts, my vote does not count. I may as well be a convicted felon in Texas or a person who does not read a single newspaper. I hate this state and it's getting worse. It began when George W. swindled the lovely, intelligent lady, Ann, out of office. I wish my family's jobs were those which could easily transfer. The Supreme Court should walk in our shoes.

Posted by: JoeyD | March 3, 2006 12:16 PM | Report abuse

actually, you are wrong. Democrats have a next to ZERO chance of reclaiming either state chamber in Ohio(also b/c of gerrymandering), the best they could do is to pick up 5 seats in either chamber. If you know about the process in Ohio, however, that does not matter regarding my argument.
The Aportionment Board handles state legislative districting, and that board consists of the governor, sec. of state, state auditor, and one member of each party from the legislature. So, if the democrats can gain 2 of the 3 statewide offices that sit on the Apportionment Board in November(THIS is what they have a good chance at doing - Ted Strickland is leading Blackwell by 14 points and they have a good chance of winning either secretary of state or auditor), then they would control the STATE legislative drawing process, which in turn after 2010 redistricting (assuming the dems retain these positions) would pave the way for a democrat-controlled legislature to redraw the congressional lines.
My POINT from earlier was, if Texas republicans can redraw congressional lines 7-8 years before the next redistricting is scheduled, what is to keep democrats from doing this in states in which they very well could have control of the process after 2006?

Posted by: Ohio guy | March 3, 2006 4:01 AM | Report abuse


IMHO, the court seems much inclined to leave the map in place. If there are any changes, however, they will likely only pertain to the map in South Texas, where Laredo's Rep. Henry Cueller is currently fighting for his life to keep the seat that he took from Bexar Co.'s Ciro Rodriguez. If, to appease Kennedy's concerns about racial gerrymandering, all of Webb county is put back into Bonilla's district, Cuellar would not have a chance in the primary and might seek a rematch against Bonilla, except with the footing of an incumbent.

I think its unlikely the map will be thrown out but if it were to be, I think there would only be tinkering in South Texas...


Democrats are a long-shot, at best to seize the Florida governor's mansion. AG Charlie Crist is a very, very formidable candidate and Davis is not exactly the king of charisma, nor has he brought home much cash. Even if Davis wins, Democrats are still going to be a pitiful minority in both the FL state house and senate, giving them minimal input in redistricting there. The best hope for Dems in FL is an independent comission.

In Ohio, Democrats will likely be in control of the state house, but they have very little chance of taking control of the state senate and are a long-shot in the house. In PA and MI, its unclear that Democrats will controlthe governor's office in 2010 because by then the current barely-popular-enough-to-be-reelected Dem governors in each state will have termed out. Meanwhile, Democratic chances at the PA legislature are still marginal, while Dems will need a good night in MI.

In short, there's little reason for Dems to be optimistic about salvation through 2010 redistricting... unless, of course, CA dems come to there senses and enact a TX-style map...

Posted by: seank | March 3, 2006 1:02 AM | Report abuse

I am to understand the 2003 Texas redistricting took place because Democrats blocked the decennial redistricting in 2000. When Republicans took the Texas house in 2003, they pushed through an "off year" redrawing of the lines. Novel, but not clearly out of line with existing practice (I happen to detest gerrymandering).

The best the Democrats can hope for is a Court-enforced return to the old district lines for the fall election. Which would be very big. Beyond that, sorry folks -- there is no long term benefit in play here. The 2010 Census is still 3 elections away -- too soon to plan for benefits of Democrat statehouse control (although a Democrat swing in the statehouses will create some useful momentum for later elections; too much can happen in 4 years).

More importantly -- on current trends, "red" states will pick up several seats from "blue" states in 2010 due to population shifts, just as in 2000. It could even be a dozen seats... I would wonder if growth in Hispanic populations might cause southwest states to become "blue", but at the Congressional level that effect can't override the wider population changes.

And if you think a Court decision not to redraw Texas will be an election issue: Dream on. It would only encourage the small base of motivated Democrats, who are already -- to put it mildly -- motivated out of their minds. Won't make 2 cents difference in any other state.

Posted by: Steve in Princeton | March 2, 2006 6:27 PM | Report abuse

I see this case as a win-win scenario for deomcrats. Let's look at either outcome.

1) The Supreme Court rules the Texas redistricting plan unconstitutional:
Previous lines are restored and (depending on if they are used for the 2006 elections) Democrats gain six seats in the House and Republicans lose 6.

2) The Supreme Court rules the current lines remain in place:
This is really, in my opinion, the better scenario for democrats. Like Intrepid Liberal noted above, Democrats have a very realistic shot at winning control of the redistricting process not only in Ohio, but Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York and even florida, where only 6 of the states 25 congressional districts are represented by democrats due to the state's ridiculously excessive gerrymandering.
If the Supreme Court upholds the Texas lines being redrawn in 2003, then all of these states that the democrats gain control of, they will be able to redraw the lines in time for the 2008 elections, causing a gain of anywhere from 15-30 seats in the House of Representatives. The reasoning would be if the republicans didn't have to wait until after 2010 to redraw the lines, why should the democrats have to wait?

Posted by: Ohio guy | March 2, 2006 4:23 PM | Report abuse

The Court must see the consequences of this kind of partisan jerrymandering and the detrimental impact it could have on our democracy. If state legislatures can, at their will, redraw congressional districts more than once a decade, what's to stop them from redrawing those districts after each election year?

Voters are being further and further marginalized as politicians cement their chances of re-election by redrawing district lines. With incumbency re-election rates higher than they've ever been (98% in 2004), plans like this in Texas might one day soon give incumbents seeking re-election a perfect batting average.

And that's not something to be proud of, America.

Posted by: corbett | March 2, 2006 2:46 PM | Report abuse

And yet the Republicans may be hoisted on their own petard if the Supreme Court affirms the redistricting in Texas. The Democrats are poised to take the statehouses of big states such as Ohio this November as well as do well in state legislative races in states like New York. In 2010 we're going to have another census and that will give newly elected Democrats an opportunity to impose redistricting their favor. So, the Republicans may smile in the short run if this decision works out in their favor. In the long ... we might see some changes.

Posted by: Intrepid Liberal | March 2, 2006 2:18 PM | Report abuse

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