White House Defends Texas's GOP Remapping Plan to Justices

By Charles Lane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 2, 2006

The Bush administration has come to the defense of Texas in a legal battle with political overtones, telling the Supreme Court in a brief filed yesterday that the state's 2003 congressional redistricting plan, drafted by Republicans, is fully consistent with the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The redistricting plan, drawn up at the request of Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), who was House majority leader at the time, was designed to give Texas's House delegation a Republican majority to match the state's overall voting preference. After the 2000 census, the state's delegation grew from 30 seats to 32, and the shift to a Republican majority in Texas helped cement GOP control of the House.

But opponents have challenged the plan in court on a variety of grounds, saying that it is so partisan that it violates the constitutional guarantee of equal protection, and that it violates the Voting Rights Act by diluting the voting strength of black and Hispanic voters in some areas. A three-judge U.S. District Court panel upheld the plan last year; the Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case during a special two-hour hearing March 1.

DeLay's efforts on behalf of the plan resulted in his being admonished by the House Ethics Committee and indicted on charges of illegally diverting money to the campaigns of state legislators who drew the new map.

Justice Department lawyers initially recommended rejecting Texas's plan, saying it would harm black and Hispanic voters, but were overruled by senior Justice officials. The legal standards used in the lawyers' analysis, however, were different from those at issue in the current case, which focuses on a separate section of the Voting Rights Act.

The Bush administration's 35-page friend-of-the-court brief does not address the constitutional issues, focusing instead on the Voting Rights Act. As amended by Congress in 1982 and interpreted by the court, Section 2 of the act prohibits states from diluting the voting power of cohesive minority groups.

Opponents of the plan say it violates the law because it broke up a district in the Dallas-Fort Worth area formerly represented by Martin Frost, a Democrat whose voting population was more than 50 percent black and Hispanic. They also said the plan created only six majority-Hispanic districts in south and west Texas, though it was possible to create a seventh.

But the administration's brief argues that the Dallas-Fort Worth district is legal because blacks alone did not make up a majority of the voters in the old district, so the plan did not deprive a single minority group of control it once had. The administration also argues that the number of majority-Hispanic districts in the plan is sufficient.

Staff writer Dan Eggen contributed to this report.

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