Supreme Court redistricting verdict offers scant relief to Democrats
DALLAS -- In a splintered decision, minority voting rights were dealt a setback by the ruling of the United States Supreme Court in the three-year battle over congressional redistricting. In their decision, the high court validated the practice of mid-decade redistricting, avoided taking a firm position on political gerrymandering, but ruled that a redrawn South Texas congressional district diluted Hispanic voting strength. State Senator Royce West (D-Dallas) said the long-awaited ruling was disappointing, but not a surprise.
"Based on being present at the hearing before the Supreme Court, this is not a shock," said Senator West. "As it relates to invalidating the 23rd Congressional District, I was not really optimistic that they would do that; but it has been done. The impact of that is that within that geographical region in South and West Texas, some realignment will be done. But it will not affect the Metroplex."
In a dissenting opinion regarding gerrymandering - drawing boundaries in ways that favor a particular political party - Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that "no other justification other than party advantage can be found." Breyer concluded, stating that the Republican-backed map "entirely violates the Equal Protection Clause."
Wednesday's ruling comes at a time when attempts to re-authorize the 40-year old Voting Rights Act has been derailed by a group of southern Congressmen that includes many Texas Republicans. They argue that the Voting Rights Act is outdated and that the nine southern states singled out for voting rights protection should not be treated differently than the other 41 states.
Senator West said that with the court's verdict, mid-term redistricting can now take place whenever there is a shift in political power; a practice some have called perpetual redistricting.
"Historically, we have had to fight those visceral battles just once a decade," Senator West said. "We will now see those battles fought throughout the decade and the people's work will not get done. The grabbing of power according to political whim may very well become the higher priority. We got a glimpse of that in 2003 when we should have used that focus to pass new school finance legislation."
The Supreme Court let stand boundaries of the redrawn 24th Congressional District now represented by Republican Kenny Marchant. The old district that covered parts of Dallas and Tarrant counties had been represented by Democratic former Congressman Martin Frost. African American voter concentration in that region was scattered into five North Texas congressional districts.
"The Supreme Court basically said that the way Tom DeLay and his cohorts carved up Southeast Fort Worth to target Martin Frost was okay," said Senator West. "It accomplished their agenda, which was to get more Republicans elected to Congress. But at the same time, a district that represented the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, now groups the citizens of Fort Worth with those of Denton County."
The Court ruled that the 23rd Congressional district now represented by Rep Henry Bonilla violates the voting rights of Hispanics in the South and West Texas Rio Grande Valley region. The map is remanded to the Austin-based, three-judge appellate court that had jurisdiction in the case. Judges can either redraw the map or allow in to be taken up by the Legislature in 2007.
For more information, please contact Kelvin Bass at 214-467-0123.