The Republican redistricting of Texas crossed another threshold yesterday, when a three judge panel ruled that the DeLay Plan was politically, not racially, motivated and therefore legal:
“While heavily aware of the long history of discrimination against Latinos and Blacks in Texas . . . we are compelled to conclude that this plan was a political product from start to finish,” wrote Judge Patrick Higginbotham of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, a Reagan appointee, and Judge Lee Rosenthal of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, an appointee of the first President Bush.
Sadly, this result is unlikely to change — there’s really nothing in the US Constitution (other than race, and even that is covered by the Civil Rights Act, not an amendment) limiting states’ ability to decide how to choose their districts. It will, however, be interesting to see whether the new districts can be delayed until after the 2004 election.
Now the question is when the heavily Democratic states will respond in kind. Should that happen, the Republicans may find that they have won the battle yet lost the war. Purely partisan redistrictricting requires total control of the state machinery. Most states are split in ways that rule out such redistricting, but the states where Democrats could someday push through a partisan plan contain many more people than the states where Republicans could do the same. The Republicans can redistrict Texas and Colorado, but after that the list shrinks: Montana, Wyoming, perhaps Utah. On the other hand, potential gerrymanders for Democrats include NY, CA, IL, and MI. This seems rather unlikely in the near term, but a distinct possibility over the next 10-15 years.