This post will have to be a preliminary one, as I'm working on editing an article and haven't yet had time to track down all the details. But as nearly as I can tell, almost all the reporting about the legislative logjam in Texas is missing what I think is clearly the real story. It's a telling sign actually of the priorities of most commentators and journalists.
There is a longstanding tradition in this country --- amounting to a firm political precedent --- that redistricting happens once every ten years. There are exceptions in voting rights cases, where districts are changed. But outside of that specific case, the established norm is quite clear. There's a census, a redistricting, and then that's it until the next census.
Sometimes, the state legislature -- or the mix of the legislature and the executive -- can't come to a decision. In that case it falls to the courts, which devise a redistricting plan. This is quite common. And those court-imposed plans are similarly not revisited until the next census.
It wasn't always like this. In the 19th century, redistricting could happen every cycle,as party control shifted back and forth from election to election. But in the 20th century that became increasingly uncommon. And in the last half century or more the 'one redistricting per census' rule has become firmly established. It's not a matter of law, but of one of the many political norms upon which our system is based.
As I said, for the moment I have to leave these points above as preliminary, since I still need to do more reporting to nail down the details. But everything I've seen so far supports this basic history. And I think it's important to raise this issue now.
Now what we have are two states --- Colorado and Texas --- in which state governments newly-unified under Republican control are taking a second bite at the apple, after settled, court-imposed redistricting had taken place. In both cases, the new redistricting laws are being rushed through at the end of a legislative session. And in both cases there is clear evidence that the direction for the move comes from Washington. In one case from Karl Rove, in another from Tom Delay.
This deserves much more attention. And I'll be returning to it when I find out more.