High court hears redistricting case

Pa. Democrats protest way GOP redrew map

December 11, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - In a case that could affect the way virtually every state draws its congressional map, Pennsylvania Democrats told the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday that their state's Republican-controlled legislature went too far in creating congressional districts designed to aid GOP House candidates.

"This map undermines democracy," said Paul M. Smith, a lawyer representing three Democratic voters who argued that the state's congressional map, redrawn after the 2000 census, gave Republicans an unfair number of seats.

The court's decision is expected by June. Currently, only seven states - Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming - don't redistrict because they have only one House member each. Fierce political battles over redistricting have erupted recently in several states.

In Texas, a new map drawn by the Republican-dominated state legislature could significantly change the makeup of the Texas delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives, according to independent analysts. Democrats now hold a 17-15 edge in the Texas delegation, but the new map could give Republicans 21 or 22 seats, ending decades of Democratic dominance of the state's delegation.

The House currently has 229 Republicans, 205 Democrats and one Independent.

Smith told the justices that courts should evaluate the Pennsylvania redistricting map to ensure that it doesn't give one party an unfair edge.

"Courts need to step in - regardless of which party is in power - to stop the process from becoming too political," he said.

But several justices appeared reluctant to allow judges to decide when political map-making becomes too political.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said the court would be "hard-pressed to come up with a way" for judges to evaluate redistricting maps.

"Maybe the way to go is just to stay hands-off of this matter," she said.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer told Smith that "what you're asking would be extremely difficult to implement."

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy agreed that the Pennsylvania redistricting map was "unfair" because the Republicans "clearly" drew it in their favor.

But he said state legislatures have been creating unfair redistricting maps for hundreds of years and he knew of no effort in Congress to change this.

After the 2000 census, Pennsylvania lost two congressional seats because of its slower-than-average population growth, falling to 19 seats.

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