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The Redistricting Wars | The Nation

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The Redistricting Wars

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Texas was only one part of a national strategy. In Colorado, after the Republicans won control of the state legislature in 2002, they promptly redrew a redistricting map imposed by the courts a little more than a year before. On December 1, Colorado's Supreme Court stepped into the fray, ruling that the state's Constitution only permitted redistricting once per decade, and that since the districts had already been redrawn by the courts in 2001-02, the Republicans had acted illegally by instituting a fresh round of redistricting this year. The court's majority held that "the state constitution limits redistricting to once per census.... Having failed to redistrict when it should have, the General Assembly has lost its chance to redistrict until after the 2010 federal census."

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Sasha Abramsky
Sasha Abramsky, who writes regularly for The Nation, is the author of several books, including Inside Obama’s...

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This decision has given new hope to the Texas Democratic Party in its lawsuit seeking to overturn the Republican coup. While the Texas State Constitution does not, apparently, explicitly forbid multiple redistrictings within a single decade, opponents of the redistricting plan have argued that it violates the voting rights of minorities by reducing the number of seats effectively controlled by minority voters; they have also argued that politically motivated redistricting is inherently unlawful. A three-member panel of federal judges is slated to hear the case starting in mid-December. Already Tom DeLay and other top Republicans have been subpoenaed in the case.

Yet even as these lawsuits wend their way through the courts, there are rumors that Republicans elsewhere are planning similar power grabs. In Ohio, in particular, there are rumors that Republicans are planning mid-decade redistricting.

In each state where mid-decade redistricting has become a major issue, key Republican state representatives told the media that they had been telephoned about the redistricting issue by Karl Rove. The Washington Post reported that Rove even phoned one GOP state senator in Texas who was opposed to redistricting to indicate how important this issue was to President Bush. "It was the most unbelievable raw exercise of power," recalls US Representative Diane DeGette, a Colorado Democrat. "The leadership suspended rules and just rammed it through. I talked to a number of Republican legislators and they said, 'I've got to do this. I'm being forced to do this.'" Other White House confidantes, including ex-Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes, are also known to have discussed the issue with Texas Governor Rick Perry.

While White House officials acknowledge that Rove talked with some state legislators about redistricting, the White House and the national Republican Party have repeatedly denied that the Administration has been orchestrating a redistricting power grab. They portray the Rove conversations as the innocuous musings of one lone individual. It's a point of view Democrats aren't buying. "Rove is the national Republican Party," asserts Representative Frost. "He's the President's chief political operative. He's not doing this on his own. It would be inconceivable for him to not be doing it for the Republican Party."

In addition to the machinations in Texas, Colorado and Ohio, a particularly robust round of routine post-Census redistricting had already occurred in 2001-02 in four crucial swing states where the Republicans had control of the state apparatus. In Michigan, in 2000 the Democrats had a 9-to-7 edge in Congressional representation; in 2002, despite the Democrats' polling 49 percent, as against 48 percent for the GOP, according to the Center for Voting and Democracy, the Republicans ended up with a 9-to-6 edge in Congressional seats. In Pennsylvania, Republicans created a 12-to-7 divide instead of the 11-to-10 split resulting from the previous election. In Florida, the Republicans expanded their majority from 15-to-8 to 18-to-7, "entirely due to redistricting," according to the center's Rob Richie. Similarly, in Ohio, even before the rumors about additional mid-decade changes, redistricting had already moved a seat into the GOP column.

The US Supreme Court heard arguments on December 10 in Vieth v. Jubelirer, a case challenging the constitutionality under the equal protection clause of Pennsylvania's newly gerrymandered Congressional boundaries. Several Democratic Congressmen, the ACLU and the NYU Brennan Center for Justice have all filed friend-of-the-court briefs in the case. In the meantime, however, the redistricting maps remain in place.

All told, assuming support for the two major parties remains roughly constant, and assuming the Supreme Court does not step into the fray too aggressively, the 2001 redistricting in newly GOP-controlled Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, coupled with the ongoing power grab in Texas, Colorado and possibly Ohio, could give the Republicans up to twenty additional House seats in the next election. The cumulative impact of this change will make it far harder for the Democrats to secure a Congressional majority over the course of the next several election cycles.

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