|| TEXAS REDISTRICTING FOUND ILLEGAL BY JUSTICE LAWYERS, FINDINGS OVERRULED, LAWYERS GAGGED
2 December 2005
New documents show Justice Department lawyers unanimously found the Texas Congressional redistricting plan to be illegal. But that finding was overruled by top Justice officials and the staff involved in the research and analysis "were subjected to an unusual gag rule", this according to the Washington Post.
This raises serious questions about the legality of Texas' representation in the US Congress, and provides new evidence for consideration as the issue faces appeal before the US Supreme Court. It also raises questions about the process for review within the Justice Department, as it is not the first such case of electoral legislation designed to benefit Republicans and marginalize minorities, where top officials overruled legal analysis from Justice lawyers.
Only two weeks ago, another leaked Justice Department memo revealed Justice Dept. overruled civil rights objections from its own staff to approve a Georgia "voter identification" law. The new law requires that one of only a few specific forms of ID be presented in order for voters to gain access to their polling stations. Because the IDs are not provided through all regular motor vehicle offices, the law would force many to travel to other districts, just to purchase valid ID for voting purposes.
The Georgia law has been compared by judges to Jim Crow era poll taxes, imposed in order to suppress black voting rights. It is clear in the case of the Georgia law that some voters, regardless of their background, were going to be forced to go to extra trouble to prove their identity, and that the extra effort would also require payment of some fees to the state. But Justice overruled its own analysts and advised Georgia that the proposal would be considered constitutional.
Under a scheme which Democrats fought vigorously, and which raised serious electoral and constitutional questions, Texas Republicans redrew Congressional districts throughout the state, gaining . The move drew controversy for a number of reasons: first of all, the redistricting is supposed to happen, under Texas law, only once every ten years, in the year after a census is taken, and is supposed to be based solely on population distribution.
Though legally required redistricting was done after the 2000 Census, "Republican state legislators, under the guidance of the presidential adviser Karl Rove, added thousands of Republicans to a district that Bob Beauprez, a Republican, won last year by just 121 votes, and excluded the Democrat who nearly beat him from the district", as reported by The New York Times, in May 2003.
Tom DeLay, who was actively involved in pushing for the redistricting plan, and who used his Political Action Committee to pressure friend and foe alike into following his views on the plan, and to place party allies in elective office, has openly stated his intent to manipulate the redistricting process to gain seats for his party. His PAC is called "Texans for a Republican Majority".
DeLay told Fox News' Sean Hannity in September: "So we had an opportunity in 2002". It was not true there was an "opportunity" to redraw state congressional districts. What DeLay must have meant was that he saw an opportunity to put new lawmakers in Austin who would change the law to allow a new round of redistricting.
Controversy swarmed around the issue in Texas, when Republicans tried to force a vote to change state laws to allow the plan to go ahead. Texas state law requires a quorum, a minimum number of legislators, be present, in order for any votes to be official. So Democrats fled the state.
They were forced to flee by another Texas law which permits the governor to order state troopers to physically detain absent lawmakers in order to compel them to do the people's work. Republicans in the state legislature voted to apply the law, and the governor had sent out the order: absent lawmakers were to be detained and forced to vote.
In what became a sort of international incident on the interstate level, Texas was unable to gain extradition from neighboring states, which lacked the legal framework, the authority, or the intent to arrest lawmakers from another state. The "fugitive Democrats" remained out of the state until the rule-imposed deadline for deciding the issue had passed.
In perhaps the most sinister part of that episode of the redistricting affair, Homeland Security was dispatched apparently in violation of the law. A Texas Department of Public Safety officer phoned Homeland Security in an effort to know the destination of a plane carrying some of the legislative refugees. He is quoted by CBS as having said, "We got a problem. We had a plane. It had state representatives in it and we cannot find this plane."
Many observers claimed there were traces of Tom DeLay on the call, that he had ordered or facilitated it. Some alleged the call could be seen as a terrorist act, because under new federal counter-terrorism legislation, it is considered a terrorist crime to make false reports of possible security threats or to mobilize counter-terror teams fraudulently.
But perhaps most significantly, there is the issue of demographics and political representation. Mr DeLay was unashamed in his declarations about meaning to ensure that Texans get the Republican majority he says they wanted. He also claimed that the redistricting would not violate federal law by reducing minority representation.
First, it is clear that the redistricting did reduce minority representation. There had been 11 predominantly minority districts, out of 30, and the new plan left 11 out of 32, despite the fact that the percentage of the population which fit into minority demographic measures had risen.
Added to all of the above, the final redistricting plan was not what state lawmakers had voted on or approved. In fact, it was significantly altered, behind closed doors. The Washington Post writes "Justice Department lawyers emphasized that the last-minute changes -- made in a legislative conference committee, out of public view -- fundamentally altered legally acceptable redistricting proposals approved separately by the Texas House and Senate", leaving voters with no means of voicing opposition or protecting their rights, once the new maps had been drawn.
Now that the US Census Bureau has reported that as of 1 July 2004, Texas was a majority-minority state (50.2% minority), the 34.4% of districts which favor minorities seems entirely inadequate to ensure "a sufficient number of safe minority districts given the demographics of the state and the requirements of the law", as put forth by the 3-judge panel that approved the measure. An appeal to the US Supreme Court is still pending.
Under indictment for conspiracy in an alleged scheme to raise illegal campaign cash and conceal it through manipulation of his Political Action Committee, Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX), stepped aside earlier this week as House Majority Leader. Congressional rules require that he leave his post while facing indictment. He has been reprimanded by Congress three times already for "objectionable behavior". Dissatisfied Republicans are looking for new leadership. [Full Story]
ALLEGED CORRUPTION ON HOUSE FLOOR
Serious questions have arisen as to the methods used by Republican leaders in the House of Representatives to persuade members of their party to vote in favor of the Medicare prescription drug bill. Conservative columnist Robert Novak broke the story, in which Rep. Nick Smith of Michigan, a Republican who voted against the bill, charged that various colleagues and business interests offered large amounts of money to his son's congressional campaign in exchange for a yes vote. [Full Story]