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March 02, 2006

Ruth Bader Ginsberg Snoozes During Oral Arguments; AP Tries To Spin For Her

Mild bias. Not overwhelming, but notice how "understanding" the reporter is of Ginsberg's nap-time:

The subject matter was extremely technical, and near the end of the argument Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dozed in her chair. Justices David Souter and Samuel Alito, who flank the 72-year-old, looked at her but did not give her a nudge.

Awwww... she's a girl. Abstract technical and mathematical concepts just aren't her thing. And her fellow male jurists didn't even nudge her, so they obviously understood that "Math is hard."

It's not serious bias. But it is mild bias-- attempting to suggest it's understandable for a Justice to doze during oral arguments. I really do not think that AP would be quite so understanding if Clarence Thomas dozed off during, say, a boring equality argument in a gay marriage case.

Thanks to Bill, second-hand, via Chris.

By the way, the rest of the article is good. It's about the Texas redistricting suit.

The court has struggled in the past to define how much politics is acceptable when states draw new boundaries to reflect population shifts.

"The only reason it was considered, let alone passed, was to help one political party get more seats than another," the justices were told by Paul M. Smith, a Washington lawyer who represents several groups challenging the plan.

"That's a surprise," Justice Antonin Scalia joked. "Legislatures redraw the map all the time for political reasons."

Chief Justice John Roberts also aggressively challenged critics of the boundaries to explain what was wrong with Republican lawmakers drawing districts that benefit Republicans.

Nina Perales, representing a Hispanic civil rights group, said that "race was used gratuitously and cynically" by Republicans, who split up Hispanic neighborhoods to dilute their voting strength.

Kennedy said the result was an odd-looking map that mixed voters of very different backgrounds.

Two years ago, justices split 5-4, in leaving a narrow opening for challenges claiming party politics overly influenced election maps. Kennedy was the key swing voter in that case.

Six Hispanics and three blacks represent Texas in the House of Representatives — an increase of one more black congressman from before the 2003 map was put in place.

Questions:

What is wrong with an odd-looking map? Odd-looking maps have long been the result of (perfectly legal) gerrymandering-- especially since the Supreme Court gave its blessing to creating "majority-minority" districts in order to increase minority representation in the House of Representatives.

This new map created MORE minority Represenatives than the old map.

Is the argument you can create more minority districts so long as the Democrats are given a gerrymander advantage, but that it's unconsitutional to do so if increasing minority districts has the effect of giving the Republicans a gerrymander advantage?

Does the Constitution give a privileged position to the Democratic Party, I wonder?

I also find Justice Kennedy's comment strange.

Kennedy said the result was an odd-looking map that mixed voters of very different backgrounds.

And? Is it not good to have a district containing a wide representation of races and social classes? Or are we determined that every district will be as uniform and nondiverse as possible?

The whole problem is that Democrats pushed for a long time for minority-majority districts. They wanted more such districts, imagining those would help them. And for a time, Republicans resisted this, believing, as the Democrats did, that such districts would hurt Republicans.

But that's not how it's turned out. Putting as many minorities in one district as possible -- guaranteeing, almost, a minority Representative -- does increase minority representation. But it also decreases Democratic representation, as those reliable Democratic voters are all bunched up into a few districts, taking them out of other districts, leaving them very white, and usually quite Republican-leaning.

So both parties have somewhat reversed their previous positions on this issue. Democrats still pretend they're in favor of such districts -- they pay lip service to the practice -- but in actuality they want to undo the system because it hurts them overall. And Republicans, meanwhile, are grinning like maniacs because the practice has backfired on Democrats.

But the inconsistency here is not quite equal-- because a neutral arbiter, the Supreme Court, has blessed the practice.


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posted by Ace at 03:28 PM

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