DON'T MESS WITH TEXAS

March 1, 2006

Today the U.S. Supreme Court reviews the partisan congressional redistricting of the state of Texas. Yet despite all the angry words spoken, the Republicans' gerrymandering has proven to be much less partisan than the Democratic gerrymandering it replaced. It is also less biased than gerrymandering in other states, making it hard for the Supreme Court to strike down the new district lines as unconstitutional, says John Lott Jr., a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

The current case (League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry) isn't going to make this problem any easier: Invalidating the Texas redistricting as too partisan would cause a flood of other legal challenges, says Lott.

  • In 2004, the first and only election that was held after the new boundaries went into effect, Democrats received 40 percent of the major party vote but only 34 percent of the seats.
  • However, this gap is actually small -- not only compared to the numbers in Texas since 1980, but also compared to other states, such as Pennsylvania, whose gap between the percentage of votes and percentage of representatives for the nonmajority party was almost twice as large -- but was found constitutionally acceptable.
  • By contrast, during the two decades when Texas Democrats completely ran redistricting -- from 1981 through the 2000 -- they averaged about 12 percentage points more seats than their portion of the popular congressional vote in Texas.
  • Even when the courts redrew district lines in 2002, the gap was 8 percentage points.

Who can argue with a straight face that the 2004 results represent excessive Republican gerrymandering when the Democrats now only received six percentage points fewer seats than their vote share?

Much of the political pressure in the Pennsylvania and Texas redistricting cases comes from the lack of political competitiveness. Only 33 out of 435 congressional seats are considered competitive this year, says Lott.

Source: John R. Lott Jr., "Don't Mess With Texas," Wall Street Journal, March 1, 2006.

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