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Ruling Could Jolt House Races

With the balance of power on Capitol Hill potentially at stake, the Supreme Court today will hear a challenge to the 2003 remap of Texas House districts engineered by Rep. Tom DeLay (R), which resulted in a 12-seat swing in the Republicans’ favor in the 2004 elections.

If the court finds for the plaintiffs and immediately throws out a map that transformed Texas from a 17-15 Democratic majority in House seats to a 21-11 minority, Democrats, who now need to win 15 Republican seats to take over the House, could see that margin cut to as few as eight.

Some election lawyers believe this is a very real possibility — and Democrats are keeping their fingers crossed.

“The Texas delegation would look a lot different this Congress were it not for Mr. DeLay’s illegal and unconstitutional redistricting scheme,” said Jennifer Crider, spokeswoman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “If the court decides in the plaintiffs’ favor, it could expand the playing field for Democrats.”

Two election law experts placed the odds at even-money that the Supreme Court will rule in favor of the plaintiffs, although lawyers associated with the defense contend that most people who get to know the facts of the case walk away believing the state of Texas is likely to prevail.

Edward Foley, a law professor who specializes in election law at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law in Columbus, expects Justice Anthony Kennedy to be the swing vote and said the court’s ruling could focus on the constitutionality of redrawing Congressional districts mid-decade.

“I think we’re most likely to get a narrow ruling that’s directed at this mid-decade phenomenon,” said Foley, who plans to attend today’s two-hour hearing. “I think it’s quite a tossup. There’s a good chance it goes pro-plaintiff narrowly and a good chance it goes pro-defendant narrowly.”

If forced to predict, Foley said he would bet on the plaintiffs.

But lawyer Dale Oldham, former redistricting counsel for the Republican National Committee and the attorney for a group of political scientists who filed a brief with the court supporting the current Texas boundaries, said people whom he familiarizes with the facts of the case are often surprised, based on what they’ve read in the press, at what a strong legal position Texas is in.

“This map fairly allocates the Republican votes in Texas,” Oldham said. “Democrats got 39 percent of votes last time and got 34 percent of the seats. Put on a seats-vote curve, that would mean Republicans are a seat or two short under the current map.”

The Bush administration agrees and has filed a brief with the Supreme Court in support of the defense. Under the old map, 53 percent of Texas’ House seats were drawn for Democrats, even though they received only 39 percent of the vote in the 2004 Congressional elections.

The case against Texas’ mid-decade redistricting — the results of which more accurately reflect the state’s Republican tilt — is actually a collection of four legal challenges whose oral arguments have been consolidated for today’s scheduled 1 p.m. hearing before the Supreme Court’s nine justices.

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