I don’t like writing about technical issues about which I have no expertise. But, the Supreme Court has made a ruling (.pdf) on Tom DeLay’s redistricting plan, and I don’t like the result. The constitution lays out the law on how to determine the make-up of Congress.

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.

In practice, Congress has conducted a census every ten years, and then reapportioned the allocation of seats accordingly. Since states sometimes gain or lose a seat in Congress and because of shifting populations within states, after the census and reapportionment, the states have typically drawn new districts. But, then they have left those districts in place for a full ten years, until the next census. This is a good practice, since it minimizes political hanky-panky. If states redraw districts everytime the power in the statehouse shifts, we’ll have chaos.

In Texas, after the 2000 census a court drew up new Congressional districts that should have stood until 2010. But Tom DeLay had the legislature rewrite the districts and the GOP picked up 6 seats as a result. We need 15 seats to take back Congress from Denny Hastert. Without DeLay’s strongarm tactics, we would need nine.

Now the Supreme Court has thrown open the door.

…the court ruled that state legislators may draw new maps as often as they like — not just once a decade as Texas Democrats claimed. That means Democratic and Republican state lawmakers can push through new maps anytime there is a power shift at a state capital.

I don’t see anything in the constitution that says that states can’t redraw their maps as often as they like. But, it seems like a terrible idea to permit them to do so. I am not a constitutional lawyer, but I hope there is some way to enact legislation that will formalize the redistricting process. I’d also like to see every state have a non-partisan commission to draw up the districts with an eye to making them as competitive as possible.

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