Among many important cases that the Supreme Court will be considering this spring is the Texas redistricting case, LULAC v. Perry. The litigants claim that the Texas redistricting plan of 2003 unfairly suppresses the political opposition and deprives millions of state residents of any effective franchise. But as we say in Texas, "This dog won’t hunt." In fact, a close examination of the facts reveals that this suit is most likely a case of partisan sour grapes.
The Supreme Court will be looking at three specific issues: the question of what standard should be used in judging whether partisan gerrymandering is excessive; whether it is lawful for a state to undertake more than one round of congressional redistricting in a single decade and finally whether the plan itself properly complies with the Voting Rights Act.
But what’s really at stake here is whether state legislatures should have the primary right to draw their own state redistricting plans or whether the plans should be decided by judges as a result of the legal machinations of partisans and special interests.
First a little bit of history. Since the late 1980s the state of Texas (like many of the states of the South) has experienced a significant tilt toward the GOP and each subsequent year Texas voters have moved more in the GOP’s direction. Starting at the top and slowly filtering down, Texas shifted from being a state that supported conservative Democrats to one which supports conservative Republicans. Much of this loss for Democrats in Texas can be laid at the hands of the leftward lurch of the national party in the 60’s and 70’s.
But whatever the cause the dramatic shift is real. Since 1972, Democrats have carried Texas in a presidential election once. And while at one time the party was competitive in gubernatorial races, Democrats have been able to win the governor’s race only once since 1986. Finally, by 1994 the meltdown was nearly obvious to everyone once no Democrat was able to get elected in Texas to any statewide office that year or any since.
Masking the hemorrhaging of the party’s appeal across the state, Democrats prized the sizeable number of Congressional seats they held. Even here the cracks were showing. The GOP received upwards of 55% of all Congressional votes cast throughout the 1990’s even though they held fewer than 40% of Congressional seats.
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