High Court Upholds Most of Texas Redistricting Map

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court upholds most of the Texas congressional districting map engineered by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. The court, however, did find that the map infringes on the minority voting rights of some Hispanics.

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SUSAN STAMBERG, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News with Steve Inskeep. I'm Susan Stamberg. We start with news today from the Supreme Court. The Justices upheld most of a controversial Texas redistricting plan. The redrawing of the Congressional map was driven by then House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. NPR's Nina Totenberg is standing by with the Court's decision. Hi, Nina.

NINA TOTENBERG reporting:

Hi, Susan.

STAMBERG: This was an extremely complicated case, so do your best. What can you tell us about the ruling?

TOTENBERG: Well, let's recap for a minute. The Texas legislature at the beginning of the decade was deadlocked on a redistricting plan - the usual redistricting plan that you have to do every 10 years. And so, as is the norm, a court drew the lines. And under the court's line drawing, the Democrats had a substantial - a slight edge.

Then Tom DeLay came along and got the - won control of the state legislature. You remember this, that the Democrats then fled to prevent the forcing of a new redistricting plan. But he got it through, eventually. And under that plan, the Republicans had six more Congressional seats.

So the Democrats then took the Republicans to court - and the State to court - claiming that this was an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander, that it deprived Democratic voters of equal protection of the law, and they lost in the Supreme Court today by a very divided court.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose the - in this case, the fifth vote and the only one counts, basically said that there's nothing suspect about a legislature's decision to do a mid-decade redistricting to replace a court plan - not just on its own, but to replace a court plan. And that there were some reasons other than partisan reasons, a few, for this plan that made it acceptable.

STAMBERG: Yeah.

TOTENBERG: And then there was a voting rights challenge. Under the Voting Rights Act, Latinos and blacks claimed that several districts were a violation of the act. Basically, the Court said one of the districts was a deprivation of the Latino's right to vote, so that at least one Congressional district in Texas is now invalid.

STAMBERG: Yeah, well, but meantime, what is the practical effect of - as we said - this very complicated decision?

TOTENBERG: Well, that's a very good question, you know. There's a primary, I think, in September. There's a general election in November. The ballots, as I understand it, have to be printed by the end of August. And they don't have a plan that's a cohesive plan that works. Now, I don't know - I'm not enough of an expert on redistricting in Texas to know whether you can change one district without seriously affecting others - but the Republicans, my guess, will lose at least one seat in this forced redistricting because of the Voting Rights Act, but you can't be sure.

STAMBERG: Yeah. Now, again, this business about whether a mid-decade redistricting is constitutional or whether the states have to wait for every 10 years, data based on a census. So the Court said what?

TOTENBERG: The Court said if you're replacing a court ordered plan, it's not necessarily unconstitutional. The Court said nothing about whether you can just do it anytime you want. And, you know, there are states where the Democrats have control of the legislature and could conceivably move, I suppose. But, I think this decision is complicated enough and has enough qualifiers in it that it probably will prevent that from happening, at least immediately.

STAMBERG: Okay, and a quick recap now. The Supreme Court upholding most of a Texas Congressional map - throwing out part of the plan, saying it failed to protect minority voting rights. NPR's Nina Totenberg, thanks so much.

TOTENBERG: Thank you.

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