The New York Times

October 18, 2004

High Court Orders Review of Texas Seats in Congress


Filed at 10:33 a.m. ET

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court on Monday ordered a lower court to reconsider a Texas congressional map that could give Republicans six more seats in Congress in upcoming elections and help the GOP protect its majority.

The announcement is a victory for Democrats, but will not affect next month's elections.

Justices threw out a victory for Texas Republican legislators, who had been accused of going far to draw new congressional boundaries after two out-of-state walkouts by Democrats.

States must redraw boundaries every 10 years to reflect population shifts found during the census. Five appeals over the Texas boundary-drawing posed an interesting question: Can political leaders of a Legislature force district drawing more frequently than once a decade, to make more seats winnable for members of their party?

Justices ordered a three-judge panel to reconsider the issue.

The Supreme Court has been divided on how much politics should be allowed in redistricting. In a 5-4 ruling this past spring, justices left a narrow opening for challenges claiming party politics overly influenced election maps.

The court said Monday that the Texas map should be viewed again, in light of that decision.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay had pressed state lawmakers to redraw districts, but he was admonished this month by the House ethics committee for getting too involved.

The committee said that DeLay, the No. 2 Republican in the House, raised ``serious concerns'' by contacting the Federal Aviation Administration last year to help locate Democratic lawmakers who fled to Oklahoma in an effort to thwart passage of the DeLay-engineered redistricting plan. A report from the Transportation Department's inspector general found that DeLay's request set off a search that spread over eight hours and involved at least 13 FAA employees.

In Texas, lawmakers failed to pass new maps for the state's 32 seats in Congress in 2001, after the census numbers were in, so a court drew up a plan.

Republicans took control of the state Legislature and started working on another map in 2003. Democrats in the House and Senate both staged quorum-breaking walkouts in an attempt to kill GOP-led bills, but the Republicans ultimately prevailed.

Washington attorney Paul M. Smith, one of the attorneys for opponents of the new map, said in a Supreme Court filing that the Texas experience ``is proof that the redistricting process in this country has gone completely haywire.''

He said with Texas as the model, states could be forced through painful district drawing every two years ``for any reason, including raw partisan greed.''

Ted Cruz, Texas' solicitor general, said that the lawmakers were trying to reverse maps that benefited Democrats. He said the state is solidly Republican, and the new boundaries are not out-of-line.

The Constitution does not say when line-drawing must be done, but Smith told justices that voters are guaranteed the right to choose their representatives through ``free and fair elections.''

He said the new plan targeted seven Democratic incumbents, putting them in districts with another incumbent, adding Republicans to their districts or giving them hundreds of thousands of new unfamiliar constituents.

The Texas delegation is now even at 16-16. Republicans could hold 22 seats after the election, although they face challenges in unseating several Democrats.

The three-judge panel that upheld the map in January said that Congress -- not courts -- has the power to bar states from redrawing districts over and over. That panel will reconsider its decision.

The cases are Jackson v. Perry, 03-1391; American GI Forum of Texas v. Perry, 03-1396; Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee v. Perry, 03-1399; Travis County v. Perry, 03-1400; and Henderson v. Perry, 03-9644.

Also Monday, the Supreme Court declined to reinstate a lawsuit filed by a former Georgia representative who claimed her loss in the 2002 Democratic primary resulted from wide-scale Republican crossover voting.

The court let stand a 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that threw out Cynthia McKinney's lawsuit, citing a lack of sufficient evidence. The ruling said the Democratic party is free to hold an open primary.

The case is Oshburn v. Georgia, 04-217.


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