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Context of '2002-2004: Texas Republicans Redraw State Electoral Districts, Critics Claim Map Gerrymandered'

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President Lyndon Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act (VRA) into law. Based on the Fifteenth Amendment (see February 26, 1869), the VRA is a potent set of statutes that permanently bars direct barriers to political participation by racial and ethnic minorities. It bans any election practice that denies the right to vote due to race, and requires areas with a history of racial discrimination to get federal approval of changes in their election laws before they can take effect. The VRA forbids literacy tests (see 1896, April 25, 1898, and June 8, 1959) and other barriers to registration that have worked to stop minority voters from exercising their rights (see 1888, June 21, 1915, and February 4, 1964). Sections 2 and 5 of the VRA work together to prohibit states from establishing voting qualifications or standards that interfere with a citizen’s right to vote on a racial basis. Section 5 requires states with a history of racial discrimination to obtain “preclearance” from the Justice Department before altering any laws pertaining to voting—this includes changing electoral districts, voter qualification rules, and even changes in government structure such as making a formerly elective office appointive. If the changes can be seen as possibly “diluting” minority voting strength, they can be disallowed. States wishing to challenge the VRA restrictions have the opportunity to have their cases heard in federal court. Section 2 has similar, if less restrictive, provisions that apply nationally. Section 10 of the VRA takes direct aim at the Breedlove ruling from the Supreme Court (see December 6, 1937), which had legitimized poll taxes used to disenfranchise minority voters. That portion of the VRA finds that poll taxes “impose… unreasonable financial hardship” and “precludes persons of limited means from voting.” The VRA also forbids the use of literacy tests, good character tests, and other such tests used in the past to suppress minority voting. The law urges the attorney general to urge the Court to overrule Breedlove; minutes after Johnson signs the bill into law, he directs the attorney general “to file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the poll tax.” The Court will find poll taxes unconstitutional in its Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections ruling (see March 24, 1966). The US Department of Justice and the federal courts now have the power to monitor problem jurisdictions and assist private citizens in seeking redress through the courts if their voting rights are infringed. Months later, the Supreme Court will uphold the constitutionality of the VRA. [eNotes, 2004; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012; Yale Law School, 2/8/2012]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Voting Rights Act of 1965, Lyndon B. Johnson

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

1970: Congress Renews Voting Rights Act

Congress renews the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA—see August 6, 1965) for five more years. Unfortunately, the law’s provisions are temporary. Congress also finds that many states are purposefully ignoring some provisions of the law. In the hearings about the law’s extension, Congress heard about the many ways voting electorates were manipulated through gerrymandering, annexations, at-large elections (see April 22, 1980), and other methods to disenfranchise minority voters. [African American Voices in Congress, 2012; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: Voting Rights Act of 1965, US Congress

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

1975: Voting Rights Act Extended

President Gerald Ford reauthorizes the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965 and 1970). The reauthorization contains new provisions to permanently bar literacy tests nationwide and provide language assistance for minority voters. The law also extends the “preclearance” provisions that require courts to monitor states with a history of discrimination. During hearings about the bill, Congress heard testimony about voting discrimination being carried out against Hispanic, Asian, and Native American citizens. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012; African American Voices in Congress, 2012]

Entity Tags: Voting Rights Act of 1965, US Congress, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US Supreme Court guts a significant portion of the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965, 1970, and 1975) by ruling that voters must prove racially discriminatory intent in order to prevail in litigation under the VRA. In the case of City of Mobile v. Bolden, the Court rules 6-3 that the previous standard of proving discriminatory results is no longer adequate. Disenfranchised voters must now prove intent, a far higher standard, before receiving redress. The case originates in Mobile, Alabama’s practice of electing city commissioners under an at-large voting scheme. No African-American had ever been elected to the commission, and a number of Mobile citizens challenged the constitutionality of the at-large scheme. The Court found that at-large schemes such as that employed by the city of Mobile only violate the Constitution if they deliberately serve to minimize or cancel out the voting potential of minorities. Justice Potter Stewart, writing for the plurality, finds that the right to equal participation in the electoral process is aimed not for the protection of any political group. Moreover, he writes that the evidence fails to show that Mobile operates a voting system with the intent to discriminate. The conservative justices largely side with Stewart. The liberals are split. Justices Harry Blackmun and John Paul Stevens concur with Stewart’s ruling for different reasons than those expressed by Stewart. Justices William Brennan, Thurgood Marshall, and Byron White dissent, with Brennan and White arguing that the burden of proof had been met, and Marshall arguing that the burden of proof should be on Mobile to show that it refused to modify its voting scheme despite the evidence of discrimination. [MOBILE v. BOLDEN, 446 US 55 (1980), 4/22/1980 pdf file; Casebriefs, 2012; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: John Paul Stevens, Byron White, Harry Blackmun, William Brennan, Potter Stewart, Voting Rights Act of 1965, US Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Congress reauthorizes the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965, 1970, and 1975) for 25 years, until 2014. It also overturns via legislation the Supreme Court’s decision to force voters to prove discriminatory intent before receiving redress (see April 22, 1980). President Reagan signs the bill into law. The reauthorization also adds protections for blind, disabled, and illiterate voters. Reagan calls the right to vote a “crown jewel” of American liberties. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: Voting Rights Act of 1965, US Congress, Ronald Reagan, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The 1990 federal census awards Texas three additional seats in its US Congressional delegation. The Democratic Party controls 19 of the current 27 seats, as it does the Texas legislature and the governorship, but population shifts and other factors have moved Texas in an increasingly Republican direction. Texas Democrats, led by Representative Martin Frost, respond by redrawing the electoral district map, as is the state’s responsibility under the Constitution, but Republicans and other critics say the new map unduly favors Democrats and is designed to ensure that Democrats retain a majority of Texas’s US Congressional delegation. Texas Republicans challenge the remapping in court, calling it “gerrymandering,” but the case is not ruled in their favor. [New York Times, 5/15/2003; FindLaw, 6/28/2006]

Entity Tags: Texas Republican Party, Texas Democratic Party, Martin Frost

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The 2000 federal census awards Texas two additional seats for its US Congressional delegation. Ten years ago, when the census awarded Texas three additional seats, Texas Democrats allegedly “gerrymandered” the state’s electoral district map to ensure that Democrats sent a majority of Democrats to the US Congress (see 1990 - 1991). Now, Republicans control the governorship and the Texas Senate, but Democrats retain control of the Texas House. The divided legislature is unable to pass a redistricting scheme as mandated by the Constitution, and as a result the entire redistricting affair is decided in court. A three-judge federal district court attempts to draw a “neutral” district map, attempting to produce a map that does not clearly favor one party over another. The court produces Plan 1151C, places the two new seats in high-growth areas, and favors county and voting precinct boundaries in the map. The new map results in a 17-15 Democratic majority in the Texas delegation to the US House, contrasting with a 59 percent to 40 percent Republican voting pattern in the state. Critics complain that the court’s plan essentially leaves the Democrats’ 1990 “gerrymander” in place. [FindLaw, 6/28/2006] Critics’ assertions are bolstered by the fact that Texas Representative Martin Frost, a Democrat, was primarily responsible for the previous map that was used by the court. [New York Times, 5/15/2003]

Entity Tags: Martin Frost, Texas Republican Party

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

For 13 years, Texas Republicans have complained that Texas Democrats have “gerrymandered” the state’s electoral district to give Democrats an undue representation in the state’s US House delegation (see 1990 - 1991 and 2000-2002). Now, with Republicans in control of both houses of the state legislature, they decide to redistrict the state to favor Republican representation in Congress. In 2002, Democrats hold a 17-15 edge in US Representatives. The decision is unusual inasmuch as states usually only redraw their district boundaries once a decade, in concurrence with the federal census. Democrats wage a bitter battle against the Republican redistricting efforts, even fleeing the state for a time to prevent the legislature from reaching a quorum (see May 12-15, 2003), but Republicans, led by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), eventually win out, and the Texas legislature enacts a new redistricting plan, Plan 1347C, that concentrates large numbers of Democrats, including minority voters, in a relatively small number of districts and gives Republicans a majority of prospective voters in a much larger number of more sparsely populated districts. In the November 2004 elections, the plan works as envisioned: Republicans have a 21-11 majority in the US Congressional delegation, and obtain a 58 percent to 41 percent edge in statewide voting results. Even before the elections, a number of organizations and individuals file a lawsuit challenging the legality of the redistricting map under the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965, 1970, 1975, April 22, 1980, and June 29, 1989), charging that the plan unlawfully dilutes racial minority voting strength and is designed to maximize partisan advantage at the voting booths, in essence gerrymandering the state’s electoral districts. A district court finds the redistricting plan is essentially legal, but the Supreme Court vacates that decision and remands the case for reconsideration; the court again finds in favor of the plaintiffs, affirming the map as lawful. [Austin American-Statesman, 5/14/2003; Washington Post, 12/2/2005; FindLaw, 6/28/2006; Oyez (.org), 2012] That decision will be substantially affirmed by the Supreme Court (see June 28, 2006). DeLay says that President Bush, the former governor of Texas, is squarely behind the redistricting efforts. After a Congressional leadership breakfast in May 2003, DeLay says he spoke briefly with Bush: “As I was walking out, I said, you know, that redistricting is ongoing. And he said, ‘Well, good, I’d like to see that happen.’” [Dallas Morning News, 5/14/2003] During the battle over the redistricting, Texas Democrats insist that the new districts will not only illegally protect Republican majorities, but will dilute the impact of votes from outside cities and suburban areas. US Representative Max Sandlin (D-TX) tells a reporter: “This plan doesn’t just destroy Democratic representation… it destroys rural representation. East Texas has had tremendous battles with Dallas over water rights. It is absolutely ridiculous to have a Dallas Congress member represent East Texans concerning water rights. And you can go issue by issue.” Republicans from rural districts say they have no such worries. [Austin American-Statesman, 5/14/2003]

Entity Tags: Tom DeLay, Texas Republican Party, George W. Bush, Max Sandlin, Voting Rights Act of 1965, Texas Democratic Party

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

A button supporting the Texas Democrats, nicknamed the ‘Killer D’s.’A button supporting the Texas Democrats, nicknamed the ‘Killer D’s.’ [Source: Ebay (.com)]The Republican leadership of the Texas legislature sends agents from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Texas Rangers, state troopers, and members of the Special Crimes unit to locate and apprehend over 50 Democratic state legislators who have left the state to prevent a quorum from being reached. The state Democrats left Austin, and the state, in order to prevent the Republican leadership from passing a controversial electoral redistricting plan that they say discriminates against minority voters (see 2002-2004). One Democratic lawmaker, Representative Helen Giddings, is apprehended. Many of the Democrats are staying for the time being in Ardmore, Oklahoma. One Democrat, Representative Craig Eiland, says that police officers questioned his wife in Galveston, where their newborn twins are in intensive care. He calls the law enforcement efforts to “find” him and his colleagues “bordering on harassment,” and advises, “Let the good guys go back to catching the bad guys and let the politicians deal with each other.” Under Texas law, even though the Democrats are committing no crime in refusing to participate in the legislative session, state law enforcement officers have the authority to arrest members of the legislature and forcibly return them to Austin to allow the legislature to achieve a quorum. [Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 5/14/2003]
Use of Federal Resources; DHS 'Furious' at Involvement - US Representative Tom DeLay (R-TX) says that the Speaker of the Texas House, Tom Craddick (R-Midland), has asked for the intervention of the FBI and/or US Marshals to “go up and get those members.” Craddick denies making any such request. The US attorney’s office in San Antonio says that an “unidentified person” called it with an inquiry about federalizing the “arrest warrant.” A Justice Department spokesperson says the issue is entirely a state matter, and “would not warrant investigation by federal authorities.” The Air and Marine Interdiction and Coordination Center, a federal agency under the purview of the DHS, is involved for a time in a search for a private plane belonging to former House Speaker Pete Laney (D-Hale Center). The agency’s purpose is to engage in counterterrorism activities. Craddick says that the agency was successful in locating the airplane in Ardmore, alerting him that many of the Democrats are in that town. Craddick says: “We called someone, and they said they were going to track it. I have no idea how they tracked it down. That’s how we found them.” Bush administration officials promised that DHS agencies and officials would not operate within American borders when the agency was created. [Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 5/14/2003; CommonDreams, 5/14/2003] According to DHS officials, someone in the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) calls the Air and Marine Interdiction Coordination Center on May 12 and says: “We got a problem and I hope you can help me out. We had a plane that was supposed to be going from Ardmore, Oklahoma, to Georgetown, Texas. It has state representatives in it and we cannot find this plane.” The center agrees to help, DHS says, because “from all indications, this request from the Texas DPS was an urgent plea for assistance from a law enforcement agency trying to locate a missing, lost, or possibly crashed aircraft.” DHS officials contradict Craddick by denying that the center found Laney’s plane in Ardmore. Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) says: “I am outraged that Homeland Security resources are being used to help settle partisan scores. It’s inconceivable that anyone would waste scarce department resources for such an indefensible purpose.” Lieberman is demanding an investigation into the matter. Representative Jim Turner (D-TX), the ranking Democrat on the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, says he is reminded “of the days of Watergate, when federal resources were used for purely partisan political purposes.” According to the New York Times, DeLay is working closely with Craddick on the matter, though a DeLay spokesman denies that anyone from DeLay’s office has had any contact with DHS, and adds, “This is a smoke screen from the Democrats, who will say or do anything to change the subject from shirking their constitutional responsibilities.” DPS spokesperson Tom Vinger refuses to say specifically what his department has done to find the legislators, saying only: “We were ordered to begin an investigation into the missing legislators by the Texas House and to take them into custody if we found them and bring them back to the House chambers. Those were our orders. And we used very basic, routine investigative procedures in an attempt to do this.” DHS officials tell a Times reporter on the condition of anonymity that they are furious about being involved in the search. [Utne Reader, 5/2003; New York Times, 5/15/2003] Craddick soon orders all records of the Republicans’ search for the Democrats to be destroyed, sparking outrage among the Democrats, who demand accountability and say Craddick is trying to hide something. [CBS News, 5/21/2003]
Questioning Family Members - Law enforcement officers have questioned the children of Representative Joe Pickett, angering Pickett’s wife Denise. And Carol Roark, the wife of Representative Lon Burnam, says police officers appeared at her home in Fort Worth and announced they were there to “arrest” her husband; one officer told her, “I’m here on the order of Tom Craddick to arrest Rep. Lon Burnam.” Roark says she laughed at the officer, and says, “I think it was a pretty silly use of tax dollars.” Dallas Mayor Laura Miller, whose husband, Representative Steve Wolens, is in Ardmore, says that police officers have camped out overnight in front of her home. Miller says, “I felt very safe last night because there were two DPS officers who slept in front of my home.” [Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 5/14/2003]
Mixed Reactions - Reaction to the Democrats’ exodus is mixed. Supporters have dubbed them the “Heroes of the House” and the “Killer D’s,” the latter a reference to a similar action taken by Texas Senate Democrats in the late 1970s. Republicans in Texas and Washington have labeled the Democratic lawmakers “cowards” and “terrorists.” Many Texas news outlets have shown sympathy to the Democrats and have criticized what some call the excessive reaction by the Republican leadership. [CommonDreams, 5/14/2003] DeLay says the Democrats who have left Texas “may not be patriots,” and adds, “Representatives are elected and paid for by the people with the expectation that they show up for work and do the people’s business and have the courage to cast tough votes.” In response, Representative Martin Frost (D-Arlington) says in regards to the redistricting plan: “Tom DeLay would be perfectly happy in the old Soviet Union. He wants one-party government. He doesn’t believe in a two-party system.” DeLay’s House colleague, Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), says, “It is easier, I think, for Tom to manipulate these lines… than it is to win elections.” [Dallas Morning News, 5/14/2003; New York Times, 5/15/2003]
Order Expires - The order from the Republican leadership is essentially vacated on May 15, when the Texas House, formerly “standing at ease,” officially adjourns. At that point, the “call on the House,” under which law enforcement officials are authorized to apprehend and forcibly return recalcitrant lawmakers, is abated. They return to Austin on May 16. Representative Jim Dunnam (D-Waco), who helped organize the retreat, says, “Government is by the people and for the people, and we had to go to Oklahoma to say government is not for Tom DeLay.” The delay causes the redistricting bill to lapse, but it will be brought up again in the next session, according to Texas Republicans. Representative Beverly Woolley (R-Houston) says: “Texas is a Republican state by all voting population, and they [Republicans] deserve to have greater representation in Congress. Sooner or later, we will redistrict. This is not over.” [New York Times, 5/15/2003; Houston Chronicle, 5/16/2003]

Entity Tags: James Dunnam, US Department of Homeland Security, Denise Pickett, Tom DeLay, US Department of Justice, Helen Giddings, Craig Eiland, Carol Roark, Air and Marine Interdiction and Coordination Center, Beverly Woolley, Bush administration (43), Tom Craddick, Texas State Legislature, Tom Vinger, Texas Rangers, Laura Miller, Martin Frost, Lloyd Doggett, Lon Burnam, Texas Republican Party, Joe Pickett, Joseph Lieberman, Jim Turner, Steve Wolens, Texas Department of Public Safety, Pete Laney, New York Times, Texas Democratic Party

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Six lawyers and two analysts at the US Department of Justice (DOJ) conclude, in a classified memo, that the controversial Texas Congressional redistricting plan headed by Representative Tom DeLay (R-TX—see 2002-2004) is illegal. The memo states that the plan violates the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965, 1970, 1975, April 22, 1980, and June 29, 1989) by illegally diluting African-American and Hispanic voting power in two Congressional districts. The plan also eliminated several other districts that contained substantial minority voting blocs. Texas Republicans knew the plan would likely be found to be discriminatory, the lawyers write in the memo. The memo says that the Texas legislature went ahead with the plan anyway because it would maximize the number of Republicans the state would send to Congress. The memo concludes, “The State of Texas has not met its burden in showing that the proposed Congressional redistricting plan does not have a discriminatory effect.” A concurring opinion written by one of the DOJ lawyers finds: “This result quite plainly indicates a reduction in minority voting strength. The state’s argument that it has increased minority voting strength… simply does not stand up under careful analysis.”
DeLay, Aide Ignored Concerns about Voting Rights Discrimination - One of the senior aides to DeLay, James W. Ellis, is cited in the memo as pushing for the plan despite fears that the DOJ would reject it. According to the memo, Ellis and other DeLay aides forced the adoption of the plan over two other versions adopted by the Texas Legislature that would not have raised as many concerns about voting rights discrimination. The memo quotes Ellis in an October 2003 memo writing: “We need our map, which has been researched and vetted for months. The pre-clearance and political risks are the delegation’s and we are willing to assume those risks, but only with our map.” Later testimony will show that DeLay and Ellis forced last-minute changes in the map; DeLay attended many of the meetings that produced the map, and Ellis worked through the state’s lieutenant governor and a state senator to shepherd the changes that he and DeLay desired. The final changes were not necessary, the memo finds, except to advance partisan political goals.
Findings Overruled - Regardless of the findings, the lawyers and analysts’ judgment is overruled by senior officials at the DOJ, all appointed by the Bush administration. The DOJ’s civil rights division will affirm the plan as legal and valid. The memo is kept secret for almost two years, and the lawyers and analysts involved in the case, including the authors of the memo, are bound to silence under an unusual gag rule. The DOJ is under no legal burden to accept the findings of the memo, but historically, such findings are given great weight in DOJ rulings. Former Justice Department lawyer Mark Posner later says that it is “highly unusual” for the DOJ to overrule a unanimous finding such as this one: “In this kind of situation, where everybody agrees at least on the staff level… that is a very, very strong case. The fact that everybody agreed that there were reductions in minority voting strength, and that they were significant, raises a lot of questions as to why it was” approved. [US Department of Justice, 12/12/2003 pdf file; Washington Post, 12/2/2005] In December 2005, the Washington Post will reveal the existence of the memo (see December 2, 2005). Days after the Post article, Posner will write an article for the prestigious legal Web site FindLaw that will opine that the DOJ memo was ignored for partisan political reasons, and not because of honest differences of opinion between legal experts (see December 5, 2005).

Entity Tags: Texas State Legislature, Civil Rights Division (DOJ), Mark Posner, Voting Rights Act of 1965, James W. Ellis, US Department of Justice, Washington Post, Tom DeLay

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Washington Post reports that the controversial Texas congressional redistricting plan headed by Representative Tom DeLay (R-TX—see 2002-2004) was found to be illegal by Justice Department lawyers, but their judgment was overruled by senior political appointees at the Department of Justice (DOJ) who approved the plan. The information comes from a previously undisclosed memo written in December 2003 (see December 12, 2003) and provided to the Post by, the Post writes, “a person connected to the case who is critical of the adopted redistricting map.” Six lawyers and two analysts at the DOJ found that the DeLay plan violated the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965, 1970, 1975, April 22, 1980, and June 29, 1989) by illegally diluting African-American and Hispanic voting power in two Congressional districts. Texas Republicans knew the plan would likely be found to be discriminatory, the lawyers wrote in the memo, but went ahead with the plan anyway because it would maximize the number of Republicans the state would send to Congress. In the 2004 federal elections, Texas sent five additional Republicans to the US House, helping to solidify GOP control of that body. A lawyer for the Texas Democrats and minority groups who are challenging the redistricting in court, J. Gerald Hebert, says of the DOJ memo: “We always felt that the process… wouldn’t be corrupt, but it was.… The staff didn’t see this as a close call or a mixed bag or anything like that. This should have been a very clear-cut case.” DOJ spokesman Eric W. Holland, defending the decision by senior DOJ officials to approve the plan, points to a lower-court decision in the case that affirmed the plan’s legality. “The court ruled that, in fact, the new congressional plan created a sufficient number of safe minority districts given the demographics of the state and the requirements of the law,” he says, and notes that Texas now has three African-Americans in Congress whereas in the years before redistricting, it had only two. Hebert says the DOJ’s approval of the redistricting plan was a critical factor in the court’s decision to affirm the plan. DeLay spokesman Kevin Madden accuses Hebert of engaging in what he calls “nonsensical political babble,” and says the DOJ is correct to have found that the plan has no discriminatory effects. Under both the older plan (see 2000-2002) and the DeLay plan, minority-led districts number 11, but under the DeLay plan, Texas gained two more Congressional districts, both represented by Republicans. Recently, a similar case was reported in which DOJ lawyers found a Georgia redistricting plan to be illegal, but senior political appointees overruled the legal judgment and approved the plan. A court later found the plan to be illegal. [Washington Post, 12/2/2005]

Entity Tags: Kevin Madden, Eric W. Holland, J. Gerald Hebert, US Department of Justice, Voting Rights Act of 1965, Washington Post, Tom DeLay

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Mark Posner, a law professor at American University who served in the civil rights division of the US Department of Justice (DOJ) for 23 years and supervised the DOJ’s “Section 5” reviews under the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965, 1970, 1975, April 22, 1980, and June 29, 1989) for 10 years, writes an article for the prestigious legal information Web site FindLaw that says the DOJ found the controversial Texas redistricting plan (see 2002-2004) legal for purely partisan political reasons. Posner’s article is spurred by the recent revelation of a 2003 DOJ memo (see December 12, 2003 and December 2, 2005) that found the redistricting plan to be illegal, and the Washington Post’s finding that the memo was rejected by political appointees at the DOJ, who saw to it that the plan was approved by the civil rights division. Posner is more specific than the Post article, writing: “A Republican appointee overrode the staff recommendation and granted approval, allowing the plan to go into effect for the 2004 Congressional elections. In so doing, the official sided with his political party and with one of the most powerful Republicans in Washington.” Posner notes that the Bush administration has defended the decision, claiming that it was merely the result of what he calls “an honest disagreement between the career and political staff about how to apply the law to a complex set of facts.” In spite of the defense, including a statement by the attorney general, Posner writes that “this is not a case of an honest disagreement between lawyers. Rather, there is strong objective evidence that politics prevailed over the requirements of the Voting Rights Act.” The civil rights division of the DOJ is required under the VRA to “pre-clear,” or approve, any redistricting plan that might result in the unwarranted dilution of minority voting strength in particular districts. Texas, as a state with a history of discriminating against its minority citizens, is one of a number of states required to obtain DOJ approval for new redistricting plans. The DOJ has examined some 435,000 election changes since 1965, Posner writes, and thusly must “follow procedures which… ensure that preclearance decisions are based on the law and the facts, and not on extraneous factors. Among other things, these procedures must guard against the temptation that some political appointees can have to decide matters based on what would benefit their political party.” The DOJ career staff play a key role in such procedures, though the assistant attorney general (AAG) for civil rights makes the final decision. Until the Texas redistricting plan, Posner writes, AAGs have generally relied on the opinions and findings of their staff to help them craft a final decision. “When the career staff unanimously recommends that preclearance be denied, the AAG almost never overrides that recommendation and approves the change. On the flip side, the staff’s unanimous preclearance recommendation always results in the change being approved.” But the Texas redistricting approval upended the usual procedure. Despite the unanimous recommendation from the staff that the DOJ block Texas from implementing the plan due to its discriminatory effect, the AAG granted approval to the plan. “The influence of politics is evident,” Posner concludes. The DOJ “significantly and substantially deviated from the decisional practice which, for nearly four decades, has served the department well in enforcing Section 5 in a fair and nonpartisan manner.… [T]he evidence points to a single conclusion: the Justice Department did not serve the interests of minority citizens in this case, but, instead, served the political interests of the Republican Party.” [FindLaw, 12/6/2005]

Entity Tags: Civil Rights Division (DOJ), Texas State Legislature, Voting Rights Act of 1965, Mark Posner

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Supreme Court upholds most of Texas’s far-reaching redistricting plan as engineered by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX—see 2002-2004). The case is League of United Latin American Citizens et al v. Perry et al. The Court rejects one element of the plan, saying that some of the new boundaries fail to protect minority voting rights. Some district boundaries will need to be redrawn, particularly one “oddly shaped” district, District 23, in the Associated Press’s description, that saw the shift of 100,000 Hispanics out of a district represented by a Republican incumbent and into the unusually crafted district. Critics called District 23 the result of illegal gerrymandering, and said it violates the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965, 1970, 1975, April 22, 1980, and June 29, 1989). Justice Anthony Kennedy, author of the majority opinion, says that under the plan, Hispanics have no chance to elect a candidate of their choosing. Democrats and minority groups have accused Republicans of unconstitutionally redrawing Texas’s electoral districts to ensure that the state’s legislature is controlled by Republicans. In the 2004 elections, the first with the new districts, Republicans took control of Texas’s legislature and four Democratic incumbents lost their seats. The Court upholds the contention that states can redraw district maps when they choose, not just once a decade as claimed by Texas Democrats. In essence, this means that any time a political party takes power in a state legislature, it can redraw maps to suit its purposes. The Constitution mandates the redrawing of state congressional district boundaries once a decade to account for population shifts; the Court says such redrawings can be more frequent if desired. The 2003-2004 redrawing of the Texas district map cost DeLay his position; he has resigned from Congress in the face of money laundering charges in relation to his fundraising activities for legislative candidates. While two other states, Colorado and Georgia, have undertaken similar redistricting efforts, law professor Richard Hasen says he does not believe many more states will move in the same direction. “Some people are predicting a rash of mid-decade redistricting. I am skeptical,” he says. “It would be seen as a power grab in a lot of places.” The 5-4 Court majority is not along ideological lines. While Kennedy, who usually joins the other conservatives, writes the majority opinion, the four liberals of the Court—Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, John Paul Stevens, and David Souter—write their own concurrences in conjunction with his opinion. Chief Justice John Roberts dissents, and Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas join his dissent. Justice Antonin Scalia writes his own dissent. [Associated Press, 6/28/2006; FindLaw, 6/28/2006; Oyez (.org), 2012]

Entity Tags: John G. Roberts, Jr, Associated Press, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, David Souter, Voting Rights Act of 1965, Samuel Alito, Tom DeLay, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Richard L. Hasen, John Paul Stevens, US Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas, Stephen Breyer

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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