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By a cascading series of mix-and-match majorities, the Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld most of the controversial middecade Texas Republican redistricting plan spearheaded by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. The ruling could encourage other states whose legislatures are dominated by one party to break from the long tradition of redistricting only after the census every decade. Texas Democrats and other challengers were consoled by a partial victoryWednesday when the Court struck down Texas District 23, reshaped in 2003into a narrow district running from the San Antonio area to the edge of El Paso, in order to protect an incumbent Republican from a surging Latino population. That shift diluted minority voting power and amounted to a violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, the Court agreed. “Justice and fairness is always a goal worth pursuing, and the fact that the Court found the map violated the rights of Latino voters in South Texas shows the fight was worth it,” said J. Gerald Hebert, lawyer for the Texas congressional Democrats. The ruling in LULAC v. Perry came on the next-to-last day of the current term. The Court announced it would complete its docket Thursday and recess for the summer � all but guaranteeing that a decision on Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the high-profile challenge to the military commissions established for detainees at Guant�namo Bay, Cuba, would come down Thursday. That is also the day for the Court’s private end-of-term party, complete with a trivia contest and skits put on by law clerks. The Texas redistricting case was the other major decision still pending this week, and it was expected to be fractured, as are many of the Court’s final-week rulings. But the high court was especially splintered on this case, producing a Texas-size decision sprawled across 123 pages of type, with six justices writing separately. Despite the verbiage, the justices Wednesday appeared no closer than ever to deciding when a politically motivated redistricting plan crosses a constitutional line and violates either the equal protection clause or the First Amendment. But whatever line might exist, a middecade reapportionment, no matter how politically motivated, does not appear to cross it, said Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the main opinion and summarized it with difficulty before spectators at the Court. “We disagree with appellants’ view that a legislature’s decision to override a valid, court-drawn plan mid-decade is sufficiently suspect to give shape to a reliable standard for identifying unconstitutional political gerrymanders,” said Kennedy, who has long held the crucial vote on the question of when the Court should or should not intervene in political gerrymandering disputes. “The important news is that Justice Kennedy remains the swing vote and is still searching for a judicially manageable standard,” said Ohio State University law professor Edward Foley, an election law expert. Kennedy was joined by Justices David Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg on this point. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel Alito Jr. also said no reliable standard had been articulated, but they said the issue had not been argued in the Texas cases, so they took no position. For his part, Justice Antonin Scalia lamented, “We again dispose of this claim in a way that provides no guidance to lower-court judges and perpetuates a cause of action with no discernible content.” Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas reiterated their view that because of their political nature, disputes over partisan gerrymandering are “nonjusticiable” or beyond the reach of the courts, so they too rejected the challengers’ claims. Nevertheless, the challengers were still heartened that the Court had not completely closed the door on political gerrymandering claims but had simply not figured out how they should be resolved. “A majority of the justices again held that federal courts have the power to strike down excessively partisan districting maps,” said Paul Smith of Jenner & Block, who represented the challengers before the high court. “Here, the Court simply ruled that the Constitution permits replacing a court-drawn map with a pro-Republican map in a majority-Republican state.” Supporters of the Texas plan felt vindicated by the ruling, even if it left questions unanswered. “I’m afraid that in the analysis of this fractured opinion, people will lose sight of the basic holding, which honors our state’s democratic process. They have allowed us to have a middecade plan,” said Shawn Stephens, a Baker & Hostetler partner in Houston who represented a Democratic supporter of the Republican redistricting plan. After the redistricting plan was enacted in 2003, the 32-member Texas congressional delegation went from a 17-15 Democratic majority to a 21-11 Republican tilt. Tony Mauro can be contacted at [email protected]

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