DeLay's Redisricting Buoys GOP

When the late archliberal Rep. Phil Burton (D.-Calif.) crafted a plan for redistricting in California in 1981 that gave Democrats about two-thirds of the U.S. House districts from the state–even though Republicans were winning about half the votes cast statewide–he was hailed as a political genius by the liberal establishment.

Later, they even named a federal building after him.

But last year when House Republican Leader Tom DeLay (R. Tex.) oversaw a redistricting in Texas that seems to guarantee the GOP a hefty majority of the state’s 32 House seats, he was vilified by the left. DeLay’s redistricting, however, merely ratifies, rather than defies, the recent pro-Republican voting trends of his state.

The U.S. Supreme Court, nonetheless, last week breathed new life into Democratic hopes that the “DeLay Plan” might still be set aside when it ordered an appeals court to re-examine a ruling upholding the plan. Should the panel overturn it, Texas’s 32 congressional districts might have to be redrawn in 2005 for the third time in three election cycles. Then the stage could also be set for the Supreme Court to make its most far-reaching decision on redistricting since it wrote new law with its “one man, one vote” ruling in Baker v. Carr four decades ago. This time the issue would be whether redistricting along partisan lines is unconstitutional.

If the courts do invalidate the “DeLay Plan” it could have a significant impact on the GOP’s slim majority in the House. This year (see chart on Page 3), the GOP is in good position to marginally increase its 229-to-205 majority. But most of the increase is likely to come from Texas, where three new districts are all but certain to elect Republican congressmen. Also, in five other Texas districts, Republicans are considered better-than-even money to unseat Democratic House members. In two of these districts, Republican and Democratic incumbents must face off against one another. Republicans insiders now believe the Republican candidate is leading in four of these five districts.

Come Election Day, congressional Democrats may not be happy with Tom DeLay. But Republicans may want to name a building after him.