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Saving the Newt? “This is pure and simple, cut-and-dried partisanship being practiced by federal judges. It has nothing to do with law, nothing to do with justiceand everything to do with keeping Newt Gingrich Speaker of the House.” Ed Martin, Democratic redistricting consultant. f you’re not doing anything this Christmas, what do you say we hold an election? As the Observer went to press, three federal judges from Houston had just issued thirteen Texas Congressional Districts, and districts, to be held in combination with the November 5 general election. Should there be no outright winners in November, runoffs are to be held Tuesday, December 10just in time for the holiday rush. If you’ve been following the lengthy court fight over Texas Congressional Districts that began with a 1994 federal lawsuit over “racial gerrymandering,” you are probably under the impression that the districts at issue were those three recently declared unconstitutional, in Bush v. Vera, by the Supreme Court: the 18th \(currently repreEddie Bernice vailed in their claim that these three districts should be redrawn. Yet in court, all sides agreed that whatever the new district lines, these three incumbents were unlikely to be unseated. \(Upon first review, the judges’ But as the argument continuesstate officials have already indicated they will appeal to the Supreme CourtDemocratic Party officials are increasingly concerned that the real targets may well have become three districts nowhere addressed by the Supreme Court: the 5th \(currently repreMartin It is no coincidence that all six seats are held by Democrats, and if the federal judgesby no coincidence, all Republicanssucceed in imposing new lines and special elections, there is a good chance that come January of 1997, two or three of those districts will be represented by Republicans. In District 5, where progressive Democratic candidate John Pouland hopes to follow John Bryant, a comfortable and in District 25, now represented by the progressive freshman Democrat Ken Bentsen, Jr., a Democratic district \(fortransformed into a Republican one \(now Martin Frost must be living right; the judges have slightly enhanced his haps more importantly, in re-opening the elections to all corners, the judges have effectively voided the March primaries and invited everyone back inwinner-take-all. In a year that the House majority could swing on as few as a dozen seats nationwide, it’s hard to disagree with Democratic insiders who are describing the judges’ actionsostensibly to correct what the court called “racial apartheid”as in fact a partisan exercise in judicial activism, intent upon somehow salvaging a Republican Congressional majority. The Democratic argument would sound more like sour grapes if the judgesEdith Jones, David Hittner, and Melinda Harmonhadn’t in recent days gone out of their way to ignore historical and immediate legal precedent and rushed to redistrict in time for new elections this year. \(In their ruling, with one eye on the state and the other on the Supreme Court, they spend most of their time defending the haste of the elections explicitly ignored recent federal court decisions in North Carolina and Louisiana which ruled against hurried and disruptive special elections, on the one hand, and unconstitutional open primaries, on the other. They have instead declared their determination to schedule November special elections in an open primary format to be followed by December runoffs. And, although mandated by the Supreme Court to do the minimum necessary to remedy the three “unconstitutional” districts, the panel appears to have redrawn as many neighboring districts as they hope can survive the inevitable judicial review. If all these weren’t enough clues to the court’s intentions, the panel had sidestepped the state’s legislative professionals and hiredas their “non-partisan” redistricting consultantthe expert proposed by the Republican plaintiffs. Although the new lines are worrisome, Democrats have complained as loudly over the unprecedented new election process primaries open to all corners held simultaneously with a November general election, followed by December runoffs with greatly diminished turnouts and much voter confusion. It’s a process very likely to decrease the voting strength of low-income and minority voters. If the judges manage to pull it offand the only thing standing in their way appears to be a potential Supreme Court stay at the extremely unreliable whim of swing-vote Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connorthey will have served well, if not the Constitution, certainly the Republican Party. Is it any wonder the name of Edith Jones \(formerly the was recently floated as a possible running mate for Bob Dole? –M.K. THE JUDGES NAVE EXPLICITLY IGNORED RECENT FEDERAL COURT DECISIONS IN NORTH CAROLINA AND LOUISIANA WHICH RULED AGAINST HURRIED AND DISRUPTIVE SPECIAL ELECTIONS, ON THE ONE HAND, AND UNCONSTITUTIONAL OPEN PRIMARIES, ON THE OTHER. AUGUST 16, 1996 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5