2003 Texas congressional redistricting

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Despite the state's national reputation as a Republican stronghold, the Texas state legislature has historically been dominated by the Democratic Party. In fact, as of 2002, Republicans had not held a majority of seats in both houses of the legislature in 130 years (since Reconstruction following the Civil War). By the 1990s, this Democratic advantage had allowed the party to create what political analyst Michael Barone argued was the most effective partisan gerrymander in the nation. Following the redistricting session after the 1990 census, Democrats won 70 percent of the state’s congressional seats in 1992, while taking only half of the votes statewide. In 2001, when it was time to redistrict again following the 2000 census, Republicans sought to redraw the lines in their favor. Because Democrats controlled the Texas State House of Representatives and the Texas State Senate was split (giving Republicans the advantage because GOP Lieutenant Governor Rick Perry broke all ties), the two parties could not agree on a new map. [4] As a result, the district lines were drawn by a three-judge federal court panel that made as few changes as possible while adding two new seats (to account for increased population in the state).

In 2001, the Texas Legislative Redistricting Board (a panel composed of the state's Lieutenant Governor, Comptroller, Speaker of the House, Attorney-General, and Land Commissioner) redrew state legislative districts in accordance with the census. The new map that was adopted by the Republican-dominated board gave the GOP an edge in winning the Texas House of Representatives. During the 2002 elections, Republicans were able to capitalize both on the new map as well as $190,000 from the Republican National State Elections Committee, to finally gain control of the legislature. What had been a 78-71 Democratic majority in the Texas State House of Representatives became an 88-62 advantage for the GOP, while a 15-15 split in the Texas State Senate became a 19-12 GOP majority. [5] At the time of the Republican victories, Democrats still maintained a 17-15 edge in U.S. Congress seats representing Texas, despite the fact that the state voted for Republicans in congressional races by a 23-19 margin. [6]

Redistricting effort

The Texas Legislature was called into session in 2003 to again redistrict the state’s congressional lines. While redistricting is commonly done only following a national census, the state legislature has the legal right to pursue it at any point. Hoping to prevent a quorum (the minimum number of legislators needed to conduct business in the legislature), more than 50 Texas House Democrats secretly fled to Ardmore, Oklahoma, halting business in the legislative chamber. They remained out of the state long enough to force the House to miss the deadline, ending consideration of redistricting during the regular session.

On June 30, 2003, a special legislative session to take up redistricting began. On July 14, Republican Sen. Bill Ratliff of Mount Pleasant joined 10 Democrats citing “unalterable opposition” to redistricting, giving them enough numbers to doom redistricting in the Senate during the special session. On July 28, eleven Senate Democrats blocked a quorum by fleeing to Albuquerque, New Mexico moments before the House and Senate adjourned the first special session and just before Republican Gov. Rick Perry planned to call a second special session on redistricting. On August 26, the second special legislative session ended with the Democratic senators still in New Mexico and no redistricting bill passed by the Senate. On September 15, a third special session to address redistricting began with Democratic Sen. John Whitmire of Houston defecting from Albuquerque. As a result, the remaining Democratic senators who fled returned to Austin (the state capital). On October 12, 2003, the Texas House and Senate completed a compromise redistricting map and sent it to Perry's office for his signature. Because of past barriers to the voting rights of minorities, Texas is one of nine states required to have it's redistricting plans approved by the Justice Department under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. On December 19, 2003, the U.S. Department of Justice gave preliminary approval to the Texas redistricting map. The clearance was made official on January 6, 2004, when a three-judge federal panel approved the map. [7]

Texas congressional district map, 107th Congress (2001-2003) - Districts drawn following the 1990 national census.[1]
Texas congressional district map, 108th Congress (2003-2005) - Districts determined by a federal three-judge panel.[2]
Texas congressional district map, 109th Congress (2005-2007) - Districts redrawn by GOP-controlled Texas state legislature.[3]

Criticism and praise for the plan

Democrats criticized the 2003 redistricting effort, citing the lack of precedent for redistricting twice in a decade, and argued that it was being done for purely political gain and was therefore gerrymandering. Statements by some Republicans lent support to this claim, since many publicly stated their expectations of picking up several Republican seats. Some minority groups argued the plan was unconstitutional, as it would dilute their influence and possibly violate the “one-person-one-vote” principle of redistricting. [8] Republicans counter-argued, however, that since most voters in the state were Republicans, it was appropriate that the party have a majority in the federal legislative delegation.

Justice Department involvement

In December 2005, the Washington Post published a memo endorsed by six Justice Department attorneys saying that, "The (Texas) redistricting plan illegally diluted black and Hispanic voting power in two congressional districts." It continued, "...the State of Texas has not met its burden in showing that the proposed congressional redistricting plan does not have a discriminatory effect." These concerns, however, were disregarded by senior agency officials, appointed by President Bush, when the Justice Department was forced to approve or disapprove the new Texas redistricting plan. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales defended his department, arguing that the plan was approved by people "confirmed by the Senate to exercise their own independent judgment" and their disagreement with other agency employees does not mean that the final decision was wrong. [9]

DeLay involvement

Former House Majority Leader Rep. Tom DeLay played an integral role in the Texas redistricting effort. An article in the March 6, 2006 issue of The New Yorker magazine by Jeffrey Toobin reported that DeLay left Washington and returned to Texas to oversee the project while final voting was underway in the state legislature, and that "several times during the long days of negotiating sessions, DeLay personally shuttled proposed maps among House and Senate offices in Austin."

In defense of his activities, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) stated, "Everybody who knows Tom knows that he’s a fighter and a competitor, and he saw an opportunity to help the Republicans stay in power in Washington." [10]

Perhaps DeLay's most influential role in the Texas redistricting effort was his support for Republican candidates in the 2002 Texas state legislative elections. DeLay helped raise money for Republican candidates in these races through two PACs which he founded: TRMPAC and ARMPAC. The goals of both were to elect a Republican majority to the Texas legislature and U.S. Congress, respectively.


TRMPAC, an acronym for Texans for a Republican Majority PAC, was originally formed by DeLay and several close associates with the goal of electing a Republican majority to the Texas state legislature during the 1994 elections. While the effort was initially unsuccessful, the PAC continued to operate through future election cycles. By 2006, the PAC had donated nearly $4.2 million to Republican congressional and presidential candidates. [11]


ARMPAC, an acronym for Americans for a Republican Majority PAC, was created by DeLay, Jim Ellis, and several associates with the goal of electing a Republican majority to the U.S. Congress during the 2000 election cycle. Enron hosted ARMPAC’s first fundraiser. It was held in Enron’s hometown of Houston, Texas and raised $280,000 for DeLay’s new leadership PAC. Subsequent disclosures show that Enron and its executives donated substantial funds. Kenneth L. Lay contributed $50,000 to ARMPAC, while Enron Vice Chairman, Joseph Sutton, contributed another $25,000.

Criminal activity alleged

Soon after the Texas redistricting plan was approved, an investigation was launched into the activities of TRMPAC regarding fundraising during the 2002 Texas state legislature campaigns. Several individuals associated with the PAC, including DeLay, were indicted in 2004-2005 on conspiracy and money laundering charges. (See Texas redistricting scandal).

2006 Supreme Court review

Democrats immediately promised to appeal the federal decision to approve the Texas redistricting plan to the U.S. Supreme Court. Nearly two years later, on December 12, 2005, the High Court agreed to hear the case. In League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry, decided on June 28, 2006, the Court ruled that states are free to redistrict however often they like (so long as the redistricting is not solely conducted in a partisan manner). It did, however, rule that the drawing of District 23 in Texas violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In this district, the Court ruled that Latino voting strength was diminished. The district takes up a vast part of west Texas, from El Paso to San Antonio, and the seat is held by Rep. Henry Bonilla, a seven-term Republican. The justices ordered lower courts and the state to fashion a new District 23. It is unclear whether a new map for District 23 will be redrawn in time for the November 2006 midterm elections. [12] [13]


The results of the 2004 elections brought Texas Republicans a majority of House seats by a 21-11 margin (a six-seat swing from 2002). [14] In 2004, Texas voted for the Republican presidential candidate (President George W. Bush) by a margin of 61%-38%, leading many Republicans to claim that the problem of unfair representation in Texas had been remedied. [15]

Articles and Resources

Related SourceWatch articles


2002 Election Statistics

Wikipedia also has an article on 2003 Texas Redistricting. This article may use content from the Wikipedia article under the terms of the GFDL.