Texas redistricting effort

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Overview

In 2002, Republicans won control of the Texas state legislature for the first time in 130 years. At that time, Democrats held a 17-15 edge in House seats representing Texas, despite the fact that the state’s voters voted for Republicans in congressional races by a 23-19 margin. [1] The resulting redistricting effort became extremely controversial, particularly because of the role played by Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas). On June 28, 2006, the United States Supreme Court issued an opinion that threw out portions of the redistricting, requiring lawmakers to adjust district boundaries, though the ruling does not immediately threaten Republican gains as a result of the redistricting. [2]

Background

Redistricting in Texas was traditionally done once every ten years, soon after the National Census. A redistricting occurred in 1991, when the Democrats held both the Governor’s seat (with Ann Richards) and a legislative majority. By 2000, Republican George W. Bush was Governor, with Republican Rick Perry as his Lieutenant Governor.

Around this time, Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) organized the Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC) and the Americans for a Republican Majority (ARMPAC). Both organizations were designed to gather campaign funds for Republican candidates throughout Texas. Simultaneously, as has been well documented in the media, DeLay played a key role in the ongoing Texas redistricting effort.

2002-2003 developments

Emails from Joby Fortson, a former Republican congressional aide, who has been described as an ally of DeLay, [3] stated as follows: “This has a real national impact that should assure that Republicans keep the House no matter the national mood,” as noted in one Fortson email sent to congressional aides, according to the Washington Post. [4] [5] [6] [7]

After the 2000 elections, however, Democrats maintained their majority in the Texas legislature. In 2001, the Democrats and Republicans were unable to agree on a new district map to correspond with the 2000 census. Per state law, under these circumstances, the matter could be submitted to a panel of judges. The Republican minority recommended this solution. Accordingly, the matter was forwarded for this type of review, and the judges drew a new map, which still established a Democratic majority.

In 2002, a Republican majority was elected to the state legislature. Under the encouragement of Tom DeLay, Governor Rick Perry and the Republican majority tried to make redistricting a major issue during the 2003 legislative session. By the end of the term, however, the issue had not been settled. As a result, Perry called for special summer sessions.

In Summer 2003, the state legislature attempted once more to reapportion the state’s congressional districts. Democratic Party members from the two state houses, lacking the votes to defeat the redistricting plan, left the state for nearby Oklahoma and New Mexico. In doing so, the 53 members made it impossible for a quorum to exist, thus blocking the redistricting efforts.

Justice Department involvement

In December 2005, the Washington Post reported, “Justice Department lawyers concluded that the landmark Texas congressional redistricting plan spearheaded by Rep. Tom DeLay violated the Voting Rights Act, according to a previously undisclosed memo” uncovered by the newspaper. [8] The document, endorsed by six Justice Department attorneys, said “the redistricting plan illegally diluted black and Hispanic voting power in two congressional districts.” “The State of Texas has not met its burden in showing that the proposed congressional redistricting plan does not have a discriminatory effect,” the memo noted. The article also stated that Justice Department lawyers “found that Republican lawmakers and state officials who helped craft the proposal were aware it posed a high risk of being ruled discriminatory compared with other options.” Nonetheless, Texas legislators proceeded with the new plan “because it would maximize the number of Republican federal lawmakers in the state,” the Post said about the document.

Criticism and praise for the plan

Democrats criticized the 2003 redistricting effort, citing the lack of precedent for redistricting twice in a decade, considering it had already been done in 2002, 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. 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. The results of the 2004 elections brought Texas Republicans a majority of House seats by a 21-11 margin. The state voted for the Republican presidential candidate by a margin of 61-38, which led the party to claim that the problem of unfair representation in Texas had been remedied.

An article in the March 6, 2006 issue of The New Yorker magazine by Jeffrey Toobin quoted Texas’s junior Republican Senator John Cornyn as saying, “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.” [9] Toobin also noted 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.”

2006 Supreme Court review

The United States Supreme Court issued an opinion on the case in League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry on June 28, 2006. While the Court said that states are free to redistrict however often they like, it also threw out District 23 citing a Section 2 violation of the Voting Rights Act. This will require lawmakers to adjust boundaries in line with the Court's ruling, though the ruling does not immediately threaten Republican gains as a result of the redistricting. [10]

Articles and Resources

Related SourceWatch articles

Resources

2002 Election Statistics

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

External articles