Colo. remap ruling may not impact Texas

By Phil Magers
Published December 1st 2003 in United International Press
The Colorado Supreme Court's decision to toss out the state's new congressional redistricting plan may not impact the Texas remap fight headed for court next week because of a difference in their constitutions.

The Colorado ruling Monday was based on specific language in the state's Constitution dealing with redistricting and there is no such provision in the Texas Constitution.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is defending the Texas plan passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature earlier this year, said the Colorado ruling was based explicitly on that state's law and was not applicable to the Texas case.

"The Texas Constitution is quite different from the Colorado Constitution, and the Texas Constitution has no provision prohibiting mid-decade congressional redistricting," he said. "Therefore, the Colorado court's determination of a matter of Colorado state law is simply not relevant to the current federal litigation over the Texas Legislature's authority under the U.S. and Texas constitutions."

The 5-2 Colorado decision held the state's Constitution permits redistricting only after the federal decennial census and before the next ensuing election. The high court ruled that the plan passed by the Republican-led Legislature earlier this year was invalid.

"In short, the state Constitution limits redistricting to once per census, and nothing in state or federal law negates this limitation," the court's majority stated. "Having failed to redistrict when it should have, the General Assembly has lost its chance to redistrict until after the 2010 federal census."

Candidates for the seven Colorado congressional seats will now run in districts drafted by a federal judge in 2002 because the Legislature failed to act following the 2000 census. Much the same scenario occurred in Texas after the 2000 census.

The Texas Legislature was unable to agree on a redistricting plan and the court imposed one. Republicans assumed control of both houses of the Legislature this year and they pushed through their own plan after Democrats staged two dramatic walkouts.

There are currently 17 Democrats and 15 Republicans in the Texas congressional delegation and GOP leaders hope the new plan will give them as many as seven more seats in next year's elections, provided it passes legal muster. In Colorado, Democrats hope now that they have won the court battle they might take two seats from the GOP.

Democrats and several civil rights groups have challenged the Texas plan in federal court on grounds that it dilutes minority voting strength. The trial before a three-judge federal panel is scheduled to begin Dec. 11 in Austin.

National leaders of both political parties have closely watched the redistricting fights in Texas and Colorado. Republicans have a 229-205 majority in the U.S. House and they hope new victories in Texas will give them even a tighter grip. There is one independent member.

One of the Texas Democrats targeted by Republicans, Martin Frost, said mid-decade redistricting, the key element in the Colorado decision, is "a serious threat" to the people. He said the same issue has been raised in the Texas lawsuit.

"The Texas Constitution is totally silent on congressional redistricting, and we hope that the three-judge federal panel will consider the underlying public policy arguments against mid-decade redistricting cited by the Colorado court as it decides this same issue in the Texas case," he said.

"Regardless of how the federal court decides the mid-decade issue, the plan passed by the Texas Legislature this year violates the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution's protections against partisan and racial gerrymandering."

Democrats contend the GOP Texas plan would disenfranchise 3.6 million Hispanics and African-Americans in the state.

In its discussion of public policy arguments against mid-decade redistricting, the Colorado Supreme Court said limiting the highly partisan chore to once every 10 years brings more stability to the political system.

"If the districts were to change at the whim of the state Legislature, members of Congress could frequently find their current constituents voting in a different district in subsequent elections," the majority stated. "In that situation, a congressperson would be torn between effectively representing the current constituents and currying the favor of future constituents."

The Colorado court said it found in its research that states have many different approaches to redistricting, but they found no decision by any state's highest court that interpreted its Constitution to allow redistricting more than once per decade.