Monday, December 12, 2005

Redistricting fiasco revisited

Republicans should be very worried about the Supreme Court's decision to revisit the Texas redistricting fiasco. They have a much weaker case than many of them assume.

There have been a few significant developments since a three-judge panel (2 Republicans and 1 Democrat) approved Tom DeLay's dream map for keeping himself in power.
First, there is the little matter of Tom DeLay being indicted for the money laundering scheme that helped get his map into law in the first place. Second, and more significant, we now know that the judges were lied to when told that the Justice Department said the map did not violate the Voting Rights Act. The non-partisan experts in the Justice Department were unanimous in saying that the plan would dilute minority voting strength, as indeed it has.

The Washington Post looks at why that is...

The voting rights suits point to two districts in particular, Doggett's old 10th District, which covered one county and now stretches eastward to Houston, and Republican Rep. Henry Bonilla's 23rd District.

In 2001, the voting-age population of the 10th District was 55 percent non-Hispanic white, while Latinos and blacks made up 39 percent. Now, the white voting-age population is nearly 70 percent, while minorities are just over 25 percent. A district that gave Doggett 84 percent of its votes in 2002 gave Republican Michael T. McCaul 84 percent two years later.

The federal courts had deemed the 23rd District a Latino opportunity district, but Latino groups have said that white voters gave Bonilla his razor-thin margin of victory in 2002 over a Latino Democrat. That year, the voting-age population of his district was 63 percent Latino and 33 percent non-Hispanic white.

For Republicans in Austin, Bonilla's victory was too shaky. After redistricting, he cruised to victory with 69 percent of the vote. That time, the Latino population was 51 percent, while the white population had climbed to 45 percent.

"To dismantle a Latino-majority district for the explicit purpose of making sure they can't elect a candidate of their choice is a violation of the Voting Rights Act," said Nina Perales, southwestern regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Bolstering that case are the Justice lawyers. A December 2003 memo obtained this month by The Washington Post shows that six staff lawyers and two analysts from the voting section concluded that the Texas plan should be rejected because it would harm black and Hispanic voters. Senior Justice officials overruled that recommendation and issued an approval a week later.

People need to remember that the Voting Rights Act is concerned with the voters in the district and not with who they elect. A majority white district can elect a minority candidate, but that does not make it a minority district. My City Council District, for example, is overwhelmingly white, but nevertheless elected a black man, Art Hall, as our representative. But that doesn't mean you could count my district as a minority voting district.

Despite the election of one additional black following the re-redistricting process, the fact remains that in the end two minority voting districts were eliminated to help give Republicans their ultimate partisan advantage. Once the power of incumbency wears off as established members leave office, the full impact of the GOP scheme will become evident.
The Supreme Court will be hard-pressed not to knock this down when faced with the opinion of the Voting Rights experts at Justice who were muzzled by political hacks these past few years.

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