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Wednesday, January 07, 2004

The blogosphere digests yesterday's court ruling upholding Texas redistricting

I've written more about the 2003 Texas redistricting battle — in the Legislature, the courts, and the arena of public opinion — than I have about any other topic since I started blogging late last summer.  For those who've followed the story, this has been political theater of the highest (and lowest) caliber, with twists and turns aplenty, heroes and villains, comedy and drama, perfidy and steadfast perseverance.  And having been so immersed in it, I admit to being surprised and slightly puzzled when folks from out-of-state seem to be sort of slow to snap to the huge national political implications of what's been happening.

Thus, I'm fairly surprised that National Review Online's realtime multi-writer blog, The Corner, has so far managed only one twenty-word post on yesterday's ruling in Session v. Perry.

By contrast, UCLA law professor and blogger Stephen Bainbridge snapped to the national significance:

This is a VERY big deal. It means a likely shift of up to 7 House of Representative seats to the GOP. Given how few House seats are truly competitive, the recent debate among the Democratic presidential candidates as to which one of them has the best chance of rewinning Congress for the Democrats would seem to have been mooted.

VodkaPundit Stephen Green recognizes that this is a big deal but — perhaps due to a key factual misapprehension — makes an observation that I, and many of his knowledgeable commenters, think is way off the mark:

What the Republicans have done is throw away 200-plus years of national precedent: we only redistrict after a census. Should the Democrats take charge, even for a single session, you can bet they'll go for some sweet, sweet payback.

Short term gain: Republicans will get 5-7 new safe seats in Texas.

Long-term loss: This will come back to bite them on the ass.

Damage done: Now every state will be going through nasty redistricting fights, every time the majority changes. Currently, we only have to go through these fights every ten years, and usually only in states which gain or lose seat in Congress. "Now," said the sage, "things will be worse."

Now, it's true that the first twenty pages of yesterday's decision was devoted to finally putting to rest the Dems' claim that some provision in the US Constitution, federal law, or state law barred "mid-decade redistricting."  And the panel also noted (at pp. 20-21) that the Dems had made policy arguments that "may be" persuasive — for instance, that "frequent redrawing of district lines will undermine democratic accountability and exact a heavy cost on state independence as federal congressional leaders exert their influence to shape state districting behavior" — but that such policy arguments ought to be directed to Congress, rather than to courts in the first instance.  So yes, there's nothing — except tradition and simple aversion to continuous political blood-feuding — to prevent other state legislatures from redistricting more than once a decade.  But that was also true before the 2003 efforts in Texas; it's always been true.

What's significant, as various of VodkaPundit's commenters immediately pointed out, is that the 2003 redistricting was the first successful legislative redistricting in Texas since the 2000 census.  We have not violated the "one redistricting per decade" tradition, but rather have vindicated the very important constitutional principle that it's (small-d) democratic state legislatures, rather than panels of unelected and ill-equipped federal judges, whose duty it is to do redistricting in the first place — once each decade.  Texas Lt. Governor David Dewhurst was widely quoted after the third and ultimately successful special session of the 2003 Legislature as saying that even if the courts overturned the plan it had just passed, he had no intention of revisiting the subject of redistricting before the 2010 Census' results are in.   Perhaps VodkaPundit didn't simply didn't know these facts, and likewise didn't understand that the alternative of not redistricting was to leave in place a pro-Democratic gerrymander dating back to 1991, and to ignore the intervening 2002 election in which Texas voters eliminated the divided state government that had allowed the Dems to deadlock the 2001 attempts to redistrict.

James of Outside-the-Beltway grasps and articulates these distinctions.  And Patterico's Pontifications also links to my post from last night with kind words for my analysis, which I appreciate.  Likewise, Kevin Whited provided has provided some apt analysis and a kind link to my post, although he professes (somewhat tongue-in-cheek, I think) to have become bored with the whole topic months ago.  Mark Hardin also has a post up in which he laments the ugly face of racism.  And Owen Courrèges shares my annoyance with the Chronicle's misreporting and was also kind enough to provide a link to my post from last night.


Update (Sun Jan 11th @ 2:30pm):  Hugh Hewitt also gets it for the Weekly Standard and on his own blog.  The Corner and NRO appear to remain uninterested, which continues to boggle my mind.

Posted by Beldar at 03:45 PM in Law (2006 & earlier), Texas Redistricting | Permalink


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» Texas redistricting upheld from ProfessorBainbridge.com

Tracked on Jan 7, 2004 4:53:58 PM


(1) kevin whited made the following comment | Jan 8, 2004 8:15:26 AM | Permalink

Heh. Yes, that was tongue in cheek. I think the Court got this decision right, for the reasons we've been discussing for months (thank goodness you and others have analyzed the decision, so I can just link over -- it's a lazy 2004 for me so far!). And I think Green is off the mark with his concerns, because of the nuances you point out (legislative redistricting mid-decade replacing the earlier judicial redistricting based largely on the previous legislature's gerrymander).

There's no doubt that there was an element of political hardball at work here, and that it was driven by Tom DeLay to a large extent (because he is hoping to build a lasting governing majority). But political hardball is not necessarily illegal or even unfair, so I'm glad we can (very nearly) put the legal arguments to rest and fight this in the political arena.

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