NEAL CONAN, host:
Earlier today, the United States Supreme Court upheld most of the controversial redistricting map in Texas that was engineered by former Congressman Tom DeLay. Democrats and minority groups claim the plan was overly partisan. In a split decision, the justices rejected those claims. They did, however, overrule that one district in southwestern Texas violated the Federal Voting Rights Act. We posted the court's ruling at our Web site, npr.org.
Joining us now is David Savage, who reports on the Supreme Court for The Los Angeles Times. Good to talk to you, David.
Mr. DAVID SAVAGE (Supreme Court Reporter, The Los Angeles Times): Hi, Neal.
CONAN: Take us back to 2003. Remind us what this case was all about.
Mr. SAVAGE: Well, this was sort of a new part of the partisan wars, because prior to 2003, redistricting was sort of once a decade battle in state capitals. Politicians cared about it a lot because the new census figures required states to redraw their district boundaries. So politicians wanted to, you know, have the districts drawn that were favorable to their reelection. So it's the kind of thing that the voters sort of left out, and the public has left out, but a big deal for politicians.
Texas didn't actually redraw its boundaries entirely in 2001. The legislature was split. A court did it. But the court plan, following similar to the previous plans in the 1990s, left the Democrats with a 17 to 15 majority in the Texas Congressional delegation. So then when the Republicans took complete control of the Texas legislature, Tom DeLay said, oh, here's an opportunity to get some more Republican seats in Congress. So they redrew the boundaries in 2003 and changed it into a 21 to 11 Republican majority. So a big gain for the Republicans and…
CONAN: And a big part of this case was the idea that hey, you can't do this in midterm. You got to wait for the next - you've got to wait for the next census. You do this once every 10 years.
Mr. SAVAGE: Yes, that's right. The two complaints were, this is mid decade, once a decade is the rule. And this was purely partisan, that is there was no reason for the legislature to get into this area again except for partisan benefit.
CONAN: And the court really ruled that those things were not true, and, in fact - and it now looks as though we may be seeing a lot of state legislatures redrawing Congressional lines as the state legislatures change hands.
Mr. SAVAGE: Yes, that's right. This is sort of a license for more of this, more partisan redistricting. Justice Kennedy was the swing vote and we're going to repeat that a lot. He's going to be the swing vote on a lot of big cases. He said, first of all, this plan wasn't, if fairness is the standard, this plan wasn't particularly unfair. In other words, the Democrats had gerrymandered the state before and the Republicans, you know, changed the plan. But about 60 percent of Texans are voting Republican. And they got about 67 seats - 67 percent of the seats in Congress. So Kennedy said, it's not truly that this was the second plan. This was the first plan drawn by a legislature and it was not grossly unfair. So, in the end, he wasn't persuaded to go along with the four liberals and strike it down. He voted to uphold it.
CONAN: A couple of other decisions today. But the Supreme Court's big decision is expected tomorrow now?
Mr. SAVAGE: Yes, that's right. The Guantanamo case involving military tribunals is the last one left, probably the most closely watched case before the Court. It could be very split, but it's a real test of sort of President Bush's power in the war on terrorism.
CONAN: David Savage, we'll be talking with you again tomorrow on this Hamdan case and thanks very much for being with us.
Mr. SAVAGE: Okay. Thanks, Neal.
CONAN: David Savage, Supreme Court reporter for The Los Angeles Times, with us today by phone from his office here in Washington, D.C.
When we come back from a short break, Political Junkie Ken Rudin stops by. Today, flag burning, the minimum wage, the politics of immigration effects primaries in Utah and California. If you have questions about those or other political stories of the week, give us a call 800-989-8255, that's 800-989-TALK. You can also send us email, email@example.com.
I'm Neal Conan, back after the break. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.
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