It has agreed to hear four cases on partisan shaping of districts.
The US Supreme Court has stepped smack into the middle of a highly contentious political battle in Texas over redrawn congressional election districts.
In a surprise move Monday, the justices announced that they would examine the constitutionality of a Republican effort in 2003 to redraw voting districts in a way that heavily favored Republican candidates. The plan, masterminded by then-House Majority leader Tom DeLay, helped the Texas GOP win a 2-to-1 advantage in congressional seats while igniting all-out partisan warfare with state Democrats.
In agreeing to hear two hours of argument in four different appeals dealing with the Texas redistricting plan, the high court is poised to confront to what extent the Constitution permits blatant partisanship in redistricting.
In addition, the court could use the case to confront whether districts can be redrawn whenever a state legislature wants or must only be redrawn once every 10 years, when new census data is available. The court will also examine to what extent the concept of one-person, one-vote supersedes partisan considerations in redrawing election districts.
"The problem in these cases is that fundamentally it is all just a matter of degree: How much partisanship is too much partisanship," says Nathaniel Persily, an election-law expert at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
Election law experts say they were surprised the high court took up the issue after considering it in five earlier conferences without taking action. Some analysts said the decision might have been influenced by recent press reports revealing that career lawyers in the Department of Justice had objected to the 2003 Texas redistricting plan, but that those objections were overruled by political appointees at the department.
In addition to those reports, voting rights and redistricting have been very much in the news recently. Professor Persily called the confluence of events a "perfect storm" scenario.