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Sunday, August 17, 2003

Wall Street Journal swallows truant Texas Dems' propaganda and misstates key facts about Congressional reapportionment

In an article misleadingly entitled "Incumbent Protection Racket" (but more aptly subtitled, and teased from the home page as, "The liberal media are shocked, shocked to find gerrymandering going on") in the Wall Street Journal's online opinion section, OpinionJournal, I read this today:

Democrats and the media are especially incensed by the GOP's current efforts to gerrymander Texas, and they have a point. The GOP is trying to redraw House seats for the second time this decade, when the tradition is only once after every Census. Angry Democrats in the legislature have now fled the state twice to prevent the quorum that Republicans need to push it through.

(Emphasis by BeldarBlog.) This just about knocked me out of my chair.  If in fact Texas Republicans were trying to complete a second gerrymandered redistricting in one decade, then yes, indeed, the Dems would have a reasonable political objection (although even that would be constitutionally permissible, and has been done in the past by the most aggressive partisan gerrymanderers).

But nothing could be farther from the actual truth

As recounted in a recent opinion from Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, the actual fact is that

[t]he Seventy-seventh Legislature failed to enact a redistricting plan for the United States House of Representatives, and a three-judge federal court therefore created a plan used for the 2002 general election. See Balderas v. Texas, No. 6:01-CV-158, slip op. (E.D. Tex. Nov. 14, 2002) (per curiam)[a three-judge panel under Voting Rights Act of 1965, with two district judges and one circuit judge sitting as a special trial court with original jurisdiction], aff'd mem., 122 S. Ct. 2583 (2002).

Each party blames the other for the failure to get a redistricting bill out of committee in the Texas Senate in 2001.  In 2002, however, the voters made changes that broke those deadlocks by electing โ€” for the first time since Reconstruction โ€” a majority of Republicans to the Texas Senate, along with a Republican Lt. Governor.  And based on undisputed caselaw quoted at more length in Attorney General Abbott's opinion,

Texas legislators are entirely free to replace the court-ordered plan in Balderas and, as the court urged in McConnell, "continue efforts to fulfill their constitutional duties" as elected representatives to enact a congressional redistricting plan that comports with section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

In fact, in the granddaddy of reapportionment cases, in discussing how often state legislatures must redraw Congressional district boundaries to avoid falling into constitutional infirmity, the US Supreme Court held that "if reapportionment were accomplished with less frequency [than every 10 years], it would assuredly be constitutionally suspect."  Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533, 584 (1964). 

The Balderas panel expressed clear-eyed recognition of how redistricting works in the real world:

[T]o state directly what is implicit in all that we have said:  political gerrymandering, a purely partisan exercise, is inappropriate for a federal court drawing a congressional redistricting map.  Even at the hands of a legislative body, political gerrymandering is much a bloodfeud, in which revenge is extracted by the majority against its rival.  We have left it to the political arena, as we must and wisely should.  We do so because our role is limited and not because we see gerrymandering as other than what it is:  an abuse of power that, at its core, evinces a fundamental mistrust of voters, serving the self-interest of the political parties at the expense of the public good.

(Slip op. at 10; emphasis by BeldarBlog)  That last bit is a rather wistful condemnation of politics-as-actually-practiced, and implicit in it is a suggestion that we'd be better off without gerrymandering.  That might be so, but forty-nine of the fifty states still leave reapportionment to the partisan process of state legislatures. 

Without any doubt whatsoever, what's happening now is the back-swing of a pendulum that Texas Democrats gave a huge push in 1990 with the express purpose of protecting their majority in Texas' Congressional delegation against their party's rapid erosion at the polls in Texas.  Even if you want to argue that we should stop these pendulum swings, no one can make a principled argument that the pendulum's current position is representative of the views of the majority of Texas voters.

Posted by Beldar at 08:08 PM in Texas Redistricting | Permalink


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(1) Dennis Slater made the following comment | Aug 24, 2003 2:35:46 PM | Permalink

Good post. Take a look at Arizona's 2nd Congressional District. http://nationalatlas.gov/congdist/Az02_108.gif

The shape of this district was determined by the intense dislike the Hopi and Navajo tribes in Arizona have for one another. This map is the solution our reapportionment committee came up with to keep them in separate congressional districts. Geographically they live next to one another in a very sparsely populated part of Arizona so it is difficult to draw sensible boundries that they are both happy with.

In my view reapportionment is the simple process of balancing out the number of voters in geographic areas, made difficult by additional requirements heaped onto the process over the years in an effort to achieve political goals. They should let me do it.

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