WASHINGTON – Opponents of a Texas district map won a partial victory Wednesday when the Supreme Court ruled that some of the new boundaries don't protect minority voting rights.
But much of the congressional map designed by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay in 2003 likely will stay intact, especially since the court also ruled that state lawmakers can redraw maps as often as they like, and not once a decade, as had been argued by Texas Democrats.
That means whichever party is in charge of the state Legislature, currently Republicans, may have the say over any map changes.
The court's ruling is unlikely to jeopardize many of the gains made two years ago, when Republicans picked up six Texas congressional seats based on the new map.
But some changes will have to be made. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for a 5-4 majority that one area that pushes Hispanics into an oddly drawn district amounts to racial gerrymandering under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which was enacted to protect minority voting rights.
That act is now facing a tougher-than-expected renewal as Congress sifts through concerns about southern states' rights.
In the case of one district where 100,000 Hispanics had been relocated, Kennedy wrote that those voters are not given the opportunity to elect a candidate of their choosing.
That likely will have to be changed. But the overall decision, which justice supported on a 7-2 vote, does not suggest that the Republican-drawn map amounts to an unconstitutional power grab, as Texas Democrats argued.
"It turned out to be a good result, I believe," Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, told FOX News. "Texas has had a gerrymandered state for a long time where the Republicans have not had the representation according to their voting numbers and voting strength, and that did need to be corrected. So certainly I think the Supreme Court realized that in looking at all the facts and said that this was a fair plan in the main, but did allocate certain areas to need more minority opportunities."
"I think Tom DeLay wins; I think those who did the redistricting win," said San Antonio, Texas, talk show host Joe Pagliarulo. "Kennedy basically says it's by and large OK what happened here, we'll leave it the way it is, and it doesn't change any of the names or faces or party of those who are in the Congress from Texas right now."
As for the ruling about the frequency of map changes, the Constitution says states must adjust their congressional district lines every 10 years to account for population shifts measured in every decennial census. 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 after Republicans took control.
That was acceptable, justices said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.