Wednesday, June 28, 2006

What the redistricting decision means

Maybe. At this point.

Having qualified my conclusions, it's still subject to lots of legal interpretation, a few more decisions still need to be made, and then a plan will be executed. By someone(s). At some near or not-so-near point in the future.

First, as backstory for those of you not paying close attention, the SCOTUS -- in a decision announced earlier today -- invalidated a portion of the Texas Congressional district maps that the Republicans in Austin redrew in 2003, according to Tom DeLay's edict. There are various interpretations of whether this was a victory for democracy or not.

Blogs and listservs are ablaze with translations. Here's a few of mine. First, the facts:

1. Two* One districts -- CD-23, currently held by Republican Henry Bonilla, and CD-25, held by Democrat Lloyd Doggett* -- were deemed in violation of the Voting Rights Act due to dilution of minority votes. They must be redrawn and submitted for approval by the USDOJ again. You may recall that the political appointees there overruled the career attorneys in approving the current boundaries several months ago. Any redrawn maps for these districts likely also change marginally the composition of CD-21 (Lamar Smith-R) and CD-28 (Henry Cuellar-D, barely).

2. The Texas district court panel of three judges which arbiters this matter now has the responsibility of deciding what to do with the map. The first and most immediate decision is when to rewrite the map -- this election or the next (my guess is the boundaries for 2006 will not change). The second decision is whether they will redraw it themselves -- accepting three maps each from Democrats and Republicans has been customary in the past -- or whether they kick it back to the Texas Legislature to redo the lines during the 80th legislative session, starting in January of 2007.

Speculation and further decisions and accompanying speculation to come. For now, I'll focus on what was won:

This ruling is a substantial victory for the Voting Rights Act, a victory that puts the Republicans in Congress (like the odious John Carter) on the spot, since they delayed VRA renewal to see what the Justices would do with Texas redistricting.

I don't think it was ever likely that the Supreme Court would have tossed out the entire plan simply because of political gerrymandering, which in this decision the Justices have largely approved. Much more interesting is that redistricting can apparently happen any time a state legislature feels like it, which opens a Pandora's Box in the short term for the GOP (in states besides Texas).

Summarizing: we don't know what the relief will be. The three-judge panel could 1) draw its own map; 2) give the Texas Lege a deadline to draw one; 3) let the current districts stand for 2006; 4) move quickly to change them.

As regards the current occupants of the affected districts, Bonilla and Cuellar can be more easily defeated in redrawn districts, but Lamar Smith would be strengthened.

Some good and some not so much, which is probably the best short conclusion of what the SC decided in this case. And there will be much more to dissect in the days, weeks, and months ahead.

*Update: Only CD-23 was declared in violation of VRA. Interestingly, in the opinion issued by the Supremes, they suggest the remedy is redraw CD-25 ...

Redrawing that district (CD-23) will force nearby District 25, the Austin-to-Mexico district held by Democrat Lloyd Doggett of Austin, to be redrawn, according to the court opinion. The court's majority noted that the Doggett district, which joins two distinct Latino communities 300 miles apart, is not compact enough.

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