Tuesday, December 13, 2005

High stakes in Texasgate

Submitted for consideration, a hypothetical situation: imagine you are playing Monopoly with two other guys. And it soon becomes clear that those two buddies are in league to ensure that one of them, and not you, wins. Suppose they make a rule and put it to a vote (and since there are two of them and only one of you, the vote is a formality) that from now on you can only land on Baltic Avenue, and Vermont Avenue, and all the other really crappy ones, so that no matter how well you play, you can't do anything to alter your losing fate.

Well, that's roughly what a group of Texas politicians - led by that selfless public servant,
Tom DeLay - have done by redrawing congressional districts. By making new geographic boundaries that group voters together in ways that give Republicans the best chance to win the most number of seats, they have unfairly (and, I would say, illegally) stacked the deck in their own favor in perpetuity.

Granted, it's a boring-sounding thing, but if it's allowed to continue, it could affect every single issue facing this nation, and could even undermine democracy and, for all intents and purposes, make this a nation of only one political party. If this Texas plan is allowed to stand, that is, and it spreads to other states.

That's why the announcement yesterday that the
U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case this spring is such a huge decision. There are A LOT of chips on this table. Hopefully the Supreme Court rules this illegal, as they should, and we can exorcise this demon once and for all.

Before you start thinking of me as a partisan person, please be assured that I am not. Bad politics and shady practices are what they are, regardless of who perpetrates them. No matter who does this - Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Muppets, Space Aliens, etc. - it is insidious and it is corrupt. And it is apparently all part of
a grand Republican plan to keep themselves in power forever. Read that article and tell me if you think that's how the founding fathers envisioned our system functioning.

If it sickens you like it sickens me, there are things you can do. Non-partisan, non-profit organizations like
Common Cause and The Center for Voting and Democracy are surely going to make their voices and their members' voices heard on this issue.

Sorry to soapbox, but this is incredibly important, and the Texas plan stinks from here to Christmas. It's like something out of a dystopian novel. So don't let this legislative funhouse mirror distort American politics. We're too strong and too smart for that - right? Political affiliation means nothing - it's about doing the right thing. So don't let the game get stacked. Because Baltic Avenue is no place to be.


ombudsman said...

Do you have any hope SCOTUS will be non-partisan on this? The Justice Department has previously ruled Delay's gerrymandering illegal on grounds that it is unfair to minorities and based on outdated census data, which is a pretty strong precedent (not that i know anything about law), but is it possible to have much belief in this court, especially after the 2000 election debacle?

MSH said...

I guess SCOTUS' leaning will depend on what happens with Samuel Alito. His confirmation hearings are still set for January. So we'll see. This will be a huge early test for Roberts as the new chief justice - he has sworn up and down he'll be an impartial judge, and we'll soon find out. So long story short - I got no idea.

Train Wreck said...

The issue is not impartiality or partisanship on the court, but really the justices' view on the States' rights debate (though some would argue that such a view comes from partisanship - chicken or the egg I guess). What this really comes down to is whether the justices feel that a state should be left alone to do what they want. Unfortunately for those arguing against the scheme, they're fighting an uphill battle. Not only did the 5th Circuit uphold the scheme but, depending on the argument made, the burden is going to be very high on the petitioners. If they argue that it discriminates on the basis of race, they're going to have to prove not only discriminatory impact but also discriminatory intent - which, assuming that these guys didn't write down "We're going to redistrict so blacks and hispanics can never win" is going to be tough - especially b/c one of the new Congressmen was black. If they argue that the scheme discriminates by party, the Court will follow precedent saying that such a scheme can only be invalidated after a LONG PERIOD of partisan disenfranchisement. Unfortunately, being a democrat is not a suspect class, so the Court is going to be loath to overturn purely on the idea that democrats won't win. They'll assume that the dems will be able to get power back at some time.

Finally, there are a few things of note in this case: 1) after the TX legislature submitted the plan for obligatory review by the justice department (TX is required to do so becuase the state has had such a bad record of screwing minority voters), a panel of officials UNANIMOUSLY agreed that the scheme diminished minority voice and would be unconstitutional. UNANIOMOUSLY. That stance was only overruled by appointed officials at the DOJ. 2) Texas law says that the state only redistricts once every ten years, using the most recently completed census. But TX had just redistricted 2 years earlier when Delay's friends in the state legislature decided that it wasn't good enough. All of a sudden, republicans had 6 more seats in Congress. If that isn't shady...

MSH said...

Thanks for the info. I think the fact that the DOJ unanimously ruled against it, coupled with the fact that the feds require Texas to get these things approved b/c they've been in trouble for it before, both speak volumes.