A WOODEN cross was erected this year on a street corner in Austin, Texas, at the intersection of the three new congressional districts drawn to divide and dilute the voting strength of a liberal oasis in that mostly conservative state. The marker bore the inscription: "R.I.P. Democracy. Killed by Tom DeLay on this spot."
The reference was to a knock-down, drag-out remapping battle choreographed by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay that resulted in a crazy-quilt pattern of the state's 32 districts intended to create as many as possible in which the odds are stacked toward Republican candidates.
Communities were split, city dwellers were lumped in with farmers, suburban neighborhoods in the center of the state were linked with towns hundreds of miles away on the Mexican border.
Blacks and Hispanics were packed together in a handful of districts, or isolated in powerless enclaves throughout the rest of the state.
Tuesday's election will determine whether Mr. DeLay succeeded in shifting majority control of his delegation to the GOP. But the Supreme Court ought to use this egregious example to declare such partisan gerrymandering an unconstitutional violation of representative democracy.
The court last month left open the possibility of such a ruling when it ordered a three-judge panel to reconsider its approval of the Texas redistricting plan in light of an earlier case in which one justice seemed to be looking for a standard to determine what constitutes gerrymandering exclusively for partisan reasons.
Clearly, the Texas case offers a classic example. The state legislature approved two maps based on the 2000 Census figures, one before and one after Republicans gained control of the process. Powerful Democratic incumbents were targeted.
But Democrats in Maryland engaged in the same tactics after the 2000 Census, using their majority control of the legislature to draw a congressional district map that shifted control of two Republican districts into their column. Communities throughout Maryland - notably those in Baltimore and its suburbs - were chopped up to serve the Democrats' partisan ends.
Admittedly, politics cannot be removed from redistricting. But the court ought to set sharper guidelines for protecting communities of voters so they have the best possible chance to elect representatives attuned to their particular needs and concerns.
Then, perhaps democracy can be resurrected - at least in Texas.