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Court To Look At Texas Voting Map

The Supreme Court said Monday it would consider the constitutionality of a Texas congressional map engineered by Rep. Tom DeLay that helped Republicans gain seats in Congress.

The 2003 boundaries helped Republicans win 21 of the state's 32 seats in Congress in the last election up from 15. They were approved amid a nasty battle between Republican leaders and Democrats and minority groups in Texas.

This case has enormous political implications, reports CBS News correspondent Bob Fuss. The Bush Justice Department approved this redistricting plan, even though its own professional lawyers thought it was in violation of the Voting Rights Act. Democrats at one point fled to Oklahoma to try to stop the new map, which was drawn after Republicans took over the Texas state legislature, with help and direction from DeLay, the former House majority leader who is now charged with money laundering as part of that effort.

Justices will consider a constitutional challenge to the boundaries filed by various opponents. The court will hear two hours of arguments, likely in April, in four separate appeals.

The legal battle at the Supreme Court was over the unusual timing of the Texas redistricting, among other things. Under the Constitution, states must adjust their congressional district lines every 10 years to account for population shifts.

But in Texas the boundaries were redrawn twice after the 2000 census, first by a court, then by state lawmakers in a second round promoted by DeLay.

DeLay had to step down as House majority leader earlier this year after he was indicted in Texas on state money laundering charges.

DeLay and two people who oversaw his fundraising activities are accused of funneling prohibited corporate political money through the national Republican Party to state GOP legislative candidates. Texas law prohibits spending corporate money on the election or defeat of a candidate.

The alleged scheme was part of a plan DeLay and others set in motion to help Republicans win control of the Texas House in 2002 elections. The Republican Legislature then adopted a DeLay-backed congressional voting district map.

Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, called lawmakers back for three special sessions in 2003 to tackle the map, despite vehement opposition from Democrats who walked out and even left the state to halt progress. In the end, DeLay brokered a redistricting agreement.

DeLay was later rebuked by the House Ethics Committee for using the Federal Aviation Administration to track down a private plane that shuttled some Democratic lawmakers out of the state.

The Texas case has been to the Supreme Court once before, and justices ordered a lower court to reconsider the boundaries following a decision in another redistricting case from Pennsylvania. Justices in that opinion left little room for lawsuits claiming that political gerrymandering — drawing a map to give one political party an advantage — violates the "one-person, one-vote" principle protected in the Constitution.

However, now the court will have a chance to revisit that issue and the outcome could change because the court's membership is changing. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor is retiring, and Chief Justice John Roberts has been on the bench just a few months.

A lower court panel ruled that the map is not unconstitutional and does not violate federal voting rights law.

The amp was used in 2004 elections, and Texas elected one additional black congressman besides the six additional GOP members. Of the 32 seats, six delegation members are Hispanic and three are black.

The cases are League of United Latin v. Perry, 05-204; Travis County v. Perry, 05-254; Jackson v. Perry, 05-276; GI Forum of Texas v. Perry, 05-439.