No matter how the trial over the Legislature's tortured congressional redistricting map turns out, Texas lawmakers and other Republican leaders look craven.
Memos released Wednesday by lawyers for Democrats challenging the redistricting plan show a legislative leadership hounded and bullied by U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, the Republican majority leader from Sugar Land. But more to the point, they show state leaders cowering before DeLay's onslaught and acquiescing in what looks like illegal partisan gerrymandering to gain political advantage.
Several better redistricting plans emerged from this year's chaotic legislative process. But they were savaged when they didn't meet DeLay's approval and his insistence that certain Democratic representatives -- especially Austin's Lloyd Doggett, Waco's Chet Edwards and Dallas' Martin Frost -- be drawn out of Congress.
DeLay's minion in this exercise in domination was his lobbyist, Jim Ellis. In one memo, Ellis said that any plan that didn't get those three Democrats out of Congress was not acceptable. Sadly, the Legislature's GOP leadership meekly capitulated.
"We need our map," an October memo from DeLay headquarters said.
DeLay eventually got his map, finalized in a shameful travesty of the redistricting process. It is a complete mess, of course, and a gross insult to Texans of any political persuasion. Districts run from Central Austin to the Rio Grande Valley, from the Oklahoma state line to south of Fort Worth.
DeLay's map does violence to much of Texas. It is a radical change that moves about half of the state's population into a different district. And while a little more than half the state votes Republican, DeLay's map gives the GOP nearly 70 percent of the congressional seats.
Democrats are arguing that the map is racially gerrymandered, that it disenfranchises minority voters to give Republicans a 22-10 majority in the state congressional delegation. The Justice Department will determine this month whether the map violates the Voting Rights Act that protects minority populations. Democrats also contend that the redistricting effort was illegal because the districts already had been redrawn after the 2000 Census, an argument recently upheld in Colorado's similar fight.
There are multiple reasons for the Justice Department and the courts to discard DeLay's map. The map itself is a travesty; the process that begot it was a mockery; and DeLay's heavy hand in its formulation crossed the line into partisan gerrymandering.
Whatever the courts decide, Texans have seen that their Republican leaders trembled before DeLay and gave him a congressional map that cheats them out of fair representation in Washington.