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Supreme Court to Hear Case On Texas Redistricting Map

By Linda Greenhouse
THE NEW YORK TIMES


WASHINGTON

The Supreme Court announced Monday that it would decide the validity of the much-disputed congressional map that Texas Republicans pushed through the state Legislature two years ago in a highly unusual mid-decade redistricting that led to the loss of five Democratic congressional seats.

The court agreed to hear appeals brought by four groups of plaintiffs representing Democratic, Hispanic and black voters as well as the city of Austin and its surrounding county. The justices will hear the cases on an expedited basis on March 1, in time to issue a decision by the end of the current term in late June, but not in time to avoid the prospect of turmoil in Texas politics should any aspect of the 2003 plan be overturned. The state’s congressional primaries are March 7.

Not since Bush v. Gore, the decision that resolved the 2000 presidential election, has the Supreme Court ventured so deeply into a legal dispute at the core of partisan politics.

In the 2004 congressional election, with the new plan in place, the Texas delegation went from an even division of 16 Republicans and 16 Democrats to 21 Republicans and 11 Democrats. The plan was engineered by Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, the former House majority leader.

“Tom DeLay and his corrupt cronies were willing to sacrifice the voting rights of millions of Texans to carry out a corrupt, partisan, mid-decade redistricting scheme,” said Charles Soechting, chairman of the Texas Democratic Party in a statement expressing his hope that the court will overturn the plan.

The House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., echoed the sentiment, saying she saw the court’s action as “a hopeful sign” that it will “restore the Voting Rights Act to its historic role in furthering justice for all Americans.”

Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, said “the Texas remap is constitutional” and expressed his confidence “that the Supreme Court will find that every Texas voter has a voice at the ballot box.”

The question of whether the Texas redistricting violated either the Voting Rights Act or the Constitution has ramifications well beyond the boundaries of that state. The mid-decade redistricting was so successful for the Texas Republicans that if it is upheld, it could well become the norm any time a single party gains control of a state Legislature and wants to entrench its power in the state’s congressional delegation.

A special three-judge U.S. District Court in Austin upheld the Texas redistricting in a decision issued in June of this year.

The four separate appeals present a variety of questions for the Supreme Court, and it is not clear how broadly the justices might rule. One of the cases, for example, concerns the dismantling of a single majority-Hispanic district in South Texas, undertaken to shore up the re-election chances of a Republican incumbent, Henry Bonilla, who was losing favor with Hispanic voters in his district.

In an appeal called GI Forum of Texas v. Perry, No. 05-439, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund is challenging that action as a dilution of the Hispanic vote in violation of the Voting Rights Act.