Justices Uphold All but One Portion of Texas Map

The U.S. Supreme Court approves most of a Texas redistricting plan engineered by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, but says a portion of the new map threatens Hispanic voting rights. Slate legal analyst Dahlia Lithwick discusses the court’s ruling with Madeleine Brand.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand. How many times have you heard this: More violence in Iraq today.

CHADWICK: And, political news from Iraq's capital.

BRAND: And, world leaders react to the Iraq situation.

CHADWICK: How much Iraq news do you want to hear? Coming up: media managers place their bets on how much the public wants to know about Iraq.

BRAND: First, leading the news today, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld most of the controversial Texas redistricting plan, but the justices did strike down part of the plan, which was designed by former Republican house majority leader Tom DeLay.

The decision is one of several from the Supreme Court in this last week of the term, and joining us to help make sense of them is Dahlia Lithwick. She is legal analyst for the online magazine Slate and for us here at DAY TO DAY. And Dahlia, first, this Texas redistricting case - what was the issue at stake and what did the court decide?

Ms. DAHLIA LITHWICK (Legal Analyst, Slate Magazine): This was a pretty well known, now, mid-decade, very partisan gerrymander that was, sort of, spearheaded by, then, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. It rejiggered the Texas map so that the GOP got a massive amount of new seats, and the question for the Court in this case was, are these, kind of, mid-census, partisan gerrymanders ever so egregious as to violate the constitutional principle of one man, one vote.

The Court's vote today is highly fractious. Literally, there is this 120-page opinion that judges are, sort of, opting in and out of, like, it's whack-a-mole. It's very hard to figure out exactly what the Court held, but we know that by a five-four margin the Court held that most of the map is okay. There is one constitutional district that they said violates the Voting Rights Act, because it dilutes the votes of Hispanic voters.

But, for the most part, they said this gerrymander is acceptable and, in fact, by a seven to two margin, the Court said these redistricting maps don't have to happen only on the decade; they can happen mid-decade, and that may open the door for a lot of partisan mid-decade redistricting going forward.

BRAND: Dahlia, will this case have any affect on the upcoming elections?

Ms. LITHWICK: I can only give you the, sort of, lawyerly answer right now, Madeleine, which is, we don't yet know. Because part of the map is invalid, the whole map needs to be fixed. I'm also hearing that special run-off elections may solve the problem. I think 120 pages later, I may be able to figure it out, or we may let the political process tell us in the coming days.

BRAND: Alright. And let's look at another decision. This is one on whether prisoners have a right to receive newspapers. Tell us about that.

Ms. LITHWICK: This was an interesting case, Madeleine. By a five-three vote - Justice Alito was not participating - the Court found that in the 40, really, most awful prisoners in a Pennsylvania prison, did not have a first amendment right to newspapers and magazines. Justice Breyer, writing the opinion, said that the policy reason of wanting to, sort of, regulate their behavior and to give them incentive to behave better, was sufficient to cut off their access to these written materials.

BRAND: So we have one more day of decisions - tomorrow. What are we waiting for?

Ms. LITHWICK: There are two big cases that remain for this term, Madeleine. One has to do with the boundaries of how a state can define an insanity defense - if it has to be a broad notion of what insanity encompasses or a very narrow one. And the other - really the blockbuster of the term - is the Hamdan case, which is testing the Bush administration's tribunal system that they've set up to try enemy combatants.

So, tomorrow really is, I think, a big day going forward, in how this Court is going to look at executive power issues.

BRAND: And we'll be talking to you about that very issue tomorrow, no doubt. Thank you Dahlia.

Ms. LITHWICK: My pleasure.

BRAND: That's opinion and analysis from Dahlia Lithwick. She covers the courts for the online magazine Slate.

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