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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Texas Redistricting Case -- A Mixed (and Mixed Up) Bag

Today the Supreme Court handed down its big decision on the Texas redistricting dispute, whose genesis -- allegedly laundering illegal corporate campaign contributions ; us ing federal authorities to wrangle up absconding Texas Democratic legislators -- landed Tom DeLay in all kinds of hot water. The decision -- a whopper of 132 pages and six separate opinions -- is so mind-numbing that it has taken the nation's leading election law experts, like Rick Hasen, literally hours to post even preliminary commentary. But here's the bottom line: (1) the Democrats' claim that Texas Republican lawmakers unconstitutionally gerrymandered the entire state, mid-census, for partisan reasons was rejected, so the statewide redistricting scheme is safe; (2) the claim that one heavily- (but not majority-) African American Dallas district was illegally redrawn was also rejected, so the new district that replaced that district is safe; BUT the claim that a different, heavily-Latino south Texas district was illegally redrawn (in violation of the Voting Rights Act) was successful, so the new district that replaced that district is invalid and state legislators must go back to the drawing board. It's unclear whether the required redrawing will have some kind of ripple effect requiring substantial line redrawing in other parts of the state.

Once again, Justice Kennedy proved key. He provided the fifth vote to find the Voting Rights Act violation as to the south Texas district, the fifth vote to reject the claim regarding the Dallas area district, and the fifth vote to reject the partisan gerry-mandering claim. Here is how one commentator gauged the vote breakdown today. Curious about the two newest justices, John Roberts and Samuel Alito? Like Justices Scalia and Thomas (though not always for the same reasons), they voted together and found nothing illegal anywhere.

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