A Ruling That Messes with Texas

The Texas redistricting plan broke up many solidly Democratic voter districts and helped to give Republican candidates an electoral advantage. Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has invalidated a portion of the plan, what are the political implications?

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Okay, and back to this Texas redistricting decision. We're joined by NPR Washington Editor Ron Elving. Ron, welcome back to the show, and what are the political implications of today's decisions? Do you think - Dahlia says she's not sure about this immediate election season coming up. Have you heard anything?

RON ELVING reporting:

Alex, I don't think that this is going to make a great deal of difference, particularly not in comparison to what a different decision could have done. If the Court had been willing to throw out this Texas map, as it was drawn in 2004 and used in the 2004 elections, it might very well affect four or five, or even six seats, going back from Republican to Democratic as they were before 2004. If that were to happen, it would be a huge, inestimable boost for the chances of the Democrats taking back control of the House this November. But the Court did not do that.

What they said was, a couple of these districts bother us because it looks like you diluted the effectiveness of Hispanic voting in the 23rd, 28th districts down along the border. The 23rd district of Texas is an immense district. It has something like 800 miles of the border with Mexico. It's larger as a district than about two-thirds of the states east of the Mississippi.

CHADWICK: Wow.

ELVING: And in this enormous area, votes of Hispanics were moved around in such a way as to split them so that you got a Democrat elected in the 28th - Henry Cueller, and you've got a Democrat - excuse me, a Republican elected in the huge 23rd district that I was just describing, and that's Henry Bonilla. And those two guys may have to clash again. We may draw some of the districts around them again, but probably not more than one seat could change party hands as a result.

CHADWICK: Well, here's the other thing in this decision. The Court says, you state legislatures, if you want to change these district lines more often than once every ten years, go right ahead. When there's a partisan advantage to one party or the other, our state legislatures now going to be redrawing these lines all the time, and isn't that going to - I mean, that would be, kind of, a fundamental change in American politics, wouldn't it?

ELVING: It's possible, but what the Court is essentially saying is, we don't really find anything in the Constitution that says you can't do it more often than once every ten years, you just have to do it no less often. After there's a census, you must redraw to adjust to that census, but they didn't see a limit in the Constitution, as indeed, the Supreme Court has, in more or less glancing ways, in the past, implied that if they saw a reason for forcing a state to redraw its map between censuses, the Court itself ordered many states to do this, again because of dilution of minority voting rights.

So the Court can scarcely order people to do it and then turn around and say, but under no other circumstances may you ever. The way they read the Constitution -- you can do it as often as you can muster the political will to do so, but that's, after all, a big if. A lot of states are not going to see it worth having this battle over and over and over again. It tends to consume the calendar whenever a state redraws its congressional or its legislative district maps.

CHADWICK: Well, perhaps this is the lasting legacy of Tom DeLay.

ELVING: Tom DeLay appears to have succeeded in redistricting Texas to give it a Republican majority, at least for the foreseeable future, in the House of Representatives.

CHADWICK: NPR's Senior Washington Editor Ron Elving. Thanks Ron.

ELVING: Thank you Alex.

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