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stan v
09-13-2003, 05:32 AM
for Texas demorats (besides the fact I live in the state).


HoustonChronicle.com

Sept. 13, 2003, 12:51AM

Federal panel deals blow to Democrats in redistrict battle
By R.G. RATCLIFFE

TEXAS FACTS
Texas population, 2000 Census: 20,851,820
Total congressional districts in Texas: 32
Ideal population per district: 651,619
Existing partisan breakdown: 17 Democrats, 15 Republicans. GOP wants redistricting to create a Republican majority in the delegation.

AUSTIN -- A three-judge federal panel ruled against Democratic senators Friday, a critical defeat that boosts Republicans' chances of passing a congressional redistricting plan in a third special session set to begin Monday.

The judges rejected the Democratic senators' arguments that a Senate rule change by the Republicans violated federal law. The courtroom defeat means the Democrats likely will be unable to stop a redistricting plan in either the Senate or the House.

Another quorum break by Democrats in either chamber also appears highly unlikely.

Passage of a redistricting bill now seems to hinge only on the current lack of agreement among some Republicans on how to redraw the state's congressional districts for the 2004 elections.

Eleven Texas Democratic senators began a boycott on July 28 to break the Senate quorum to kill a Republican congressional redistricting plan in two special sessions. Republican senators retaliated by levying $57,000 in fines against each boycotter.

The standoff ended last week when Sen. John Whitmire,D-Houston, declared he would give the Republicans a Senate quorum in a third special session, to convene Monday.

The Democrats had hoped to get rulings from the federal court that would help them defeat redistricting in the Senate. They claimed mid-decade redistricting and a change in Senate voting procedures violated the federal Voting Rights Act.

The three judge panel disagreed. Their order Friday said any redistricting plan passed by the Legislature is subject to judicial review under the Voting Rights Act.

"In the instant case, what will directly affect the voters of this state is a redistricting bill, not the mere consideration of such a bill or the process by which it comes to the floor of the Texas Senate," the court ruled.

The court -- consisting of two Republican and one Democratic appointees -- left pending Democratic complaints about threats of having them arrested during the boycott and the fines, saying both issues may soon become moot.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said Friday it will be up to the Republican senators to decide whether to rescind the fines. He said it is time for the Democrats to return to the Senate for their fight.

"I'm pleased the federal court ruled today that the Senate Democrats' legal claims were meritless, and it appears obvious to me they were just stalling for time," Dewhurst said.

Dewhurst said he has no intention of reinstating a Senate procedure that allows a third of the senators to block debate when it comes to redistricting, changing the primary dates or any legislation that was approved by the Senate during the first special session.

While a resolution adopting the fines said the senators would be barred from the floor, Dewhurst aide Mark Miner said that part of the resolution expired when the second special session ended but the fines and other sanctions remain in place.

U.S. Rep. Martin Frost,D-Dallas, leader of the Democratic congressional delegation, said he believes any plan passed by the Legislature will violate minority voting rights and will not withstand court scrutiny.

Republican redistricting proposals would likely give the GOP a gain of four to seven seats. Republicans argue that is only fair since the GOP holds every statewide office and a majority of the Legislature but only 15 of 32 congressional seats.

"It is clear that any of the proposed Republican maps will face intense legal scrutiny and likely be overturned in federal court later this year," Frost said.

"This is not the battle of the Alamo. This decision is merely the buildup to the battle of San Jacinto, which we will win later this year."

Any redistricting plan passed by the Legislature will face reviews by the U.S. Justice Department and the federal courts for changes that might adversely affect minority voters.

The Democrats also are hoping a U.S. Supreme Court review of partisan gerrymandering in Pennsylvania will result in an opinion that would negate the Republican efforts in Texas.

The Texas House Democratic Caucus and U.S. Reps. Shelia Jackson Lee and Chris Bell of Houston, Martin Frost of Dallas and Nick Lampson of Beaumont have joined their Pennsylvania colleagues in a friend-of-the-court brief arguing in favor of judicial limitations.

J. Gerald Hebert, a lawyer representing the Texas Democrats, said a Supreme Court ruling cracking down on partisan gerrymandering would give the Democrats an opportunity to challenge elections next year if they are held under a new map.

"The Republicans in Texas have made it known that their primary goal here is to replace sitting Democrats with Republicans," Hebert said. "When you have that kind of dominant motive at work, the Supreme Court's decision could have a definite impact on what happens in Texas."

Hebert noted that a three-judge federal court vacated Texas primaries in 13 Houston and Dallas congressional districts in a 1996 redistricting case.

John P. Krill Jr., a lawyer representing the Pennsylvania Senate Republican leader and the Speaker of the House before the Supreme Court, said the Texas Democrats' hopes are not outside the realm of possibility.

"Anytime the U.S. Supreme Court takes a case, they intend to make law," Krill said.

Krill said both he and lawyers representing the Pennsylvania Democrats are at a loss as to what direction the court intends to go. Oral arguments are tentatively set for January.