Recipe for remapping chaos

June 29, 2006

Clever, those Supreme Court justices. They've produced a ruling on the Texas redistricting map that invites such outrageous political mischief that the national movement to take remapping away from politicians may get a backhanded boost.

The high court not only rejected the claim that election districts wildly contorted for partisan objectives violate constitutional protections, it also encouraged such maneuvers by ruling that state legislators need not follow the traditional practice of remapping after each decennial census, but may redraw the lines as often as they like.

Justices found fault only with an instance in which the Texas map devised by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay diluted the voting strength of Hispanics in violation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, highlighting the power of minority protections and challenging assertions by some lawmakers that such protections no longer serve a valuable purpose.

This decision should prompt activists in the civil rights and redistricting reform communities to join forces in a campaign that would turn over redistricting in each state to independent commissions that would be blind to partisan politics yet sensitive to minority rights. Admittedly, that balance would be tough to strike. But almost any process would be an improvement on the way election maps are drawn today.

The Texas map is such an extreme example it is almost a caricature of redistricting gone wild. For years, Texas Republicans chafed while their party boasted a majority of voters but held a minority of the state's congressional seats because the Democratic-run state legislature manipulated the election districts.

Mr. DeLay fought back, first by orchestrating a campaign that gave Republicans majority control of the state legislature, then by overseeing the drafting of a new map rejiggered to favor GOP candidates, who snatched six previously Democratic seats. The high court declined to intervene in what it saw as an inherently political process, and found no objection to the Texas legislature's redrawing recently created election districts simply because its GOP leaders now had a partisan advantage.

The ruling is an open invitation for similar tactics all over the nation. In Maryland, for example, if Republicans were to claim a General Assembly majority in this year's election, they'd be tempted to redraw the maps even further in their favor next year. If Democrats nonetheless succeeded in reclaiming control four years later, another new set of maps would likely be drawn.

Such tactics make a mockery of representative government. Yesterday's ruling should put reform of remapping process at the top of each state's agenda.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.