By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 29, 2006
Tom DeLay's dogged quest for a new congressional map for Texas led to a disciplinary slap from the House ethics committee, his indictment on money-laundering charges, his fall from the House leadership ranks and, this month, his resignation from Congress.
But the former House majority leader proclaimed yesterday that the Supreme Court's decision to uphold most of his legislative map affirmed his contention that partisan power is reason enough to muscle through new congressional district lines.
"This is a victory for the Constitution and a victory for the people of Texas," DeLay said in an interview. "It shows if you follow the Constitution and the state legislatures do their job as dictated by the Constitution, you'll have the right political representation in the Congress."
DeLay's philosophical arguments may have prevailed, but as a practical matter, the high court ruling will have no bearing on his criminal case, and his redistricting effort will not survive unscathed. The Supreme Court's two-pronged decision means that the map DeLay secured in 2003 will have to be changed, and lawyers in Texas say that it could be changed significantly.
The justices ruled that the redrawing of Texas Rep. Henry Bonilla's 23rd District strengthened the Republican's grasp on his seat by diluting Latino voters' power and violating the Voting Rights Act. Remedying that infraction will affect at least three districts and, possibly, many others, said Nina Perales, the Southwestern counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which argued the case.
A three-judge panel in Texas will have to decide in the coming weeks how to redraw those lines, and "there's no way you can do a little fixing of Bonilla's district without creating big ripple effects," said Richard Gladden, a Denton, Tex., lawyer involved in the case. "There's not a chance" DeLay's map will remain intact.
But the political arguments that drove DeLay's efforts were upheld on a 7 to 2 vote, a defeat for Democrats who had contended that district lines could not be redrawn for purely partisan purposes.
"All I can say is, the Supreme Court ruled on his plan and held it to be constitutional except for in one district out of 32," said Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Tex.), whose district abuts Bonilla's. "I guess that speaks for itself."
In 2002, after a federal court had redrawn a congressional map based on the 2000 Census, the Lone Star State sent 17 Democrats and 15 Republicans to Congress. Statewide, Texas had been trending heavily Republican, and DeLay decided that the House delegation should reflect that trend. He and his political action committees pumped tens of thousands of dollars into state elections in 2002 to win Republican control of the Texas legislature.
That fundraising led to DeLay's indictment in September on corporate money laundering charges and to his resignation from the House leadership.
In 2003, at DeLay's urging, the legislature and Gov. Rick Perry (R) redrew the congressional map in three special sessions. Democratic legislators tried to thwart the effort, at one point fleeing to Oklahoma to deny the legislature a quorum. The House ethics committee rebuked DeLay for using the Federal Aviation Administration to track down a private plane that was shuttling Democrats out of the state.
The following year, the redistricting had its desired effect. Texas Republicans gained six seats in the House and a seventh when Rep. Ralph M. Hall switched parties rather than run as a Democrat in a far more Republican district.
But DeLay paid a huge personal price. With his Texas criminal case dragging on, he renounced his leadership post early this year. Then, with his legal jeopardy rising in the unrelated Jack Abramoff corruption probe, he resigned from the House, which he had dominated for more than a decade.
Still, he said he was heartened by yesterday's Supreme Court ruling.
"It's always worth it to stand up for the Constitution," DeLay said.