A setback for DeLay and an embarrassment for Justice?

The Supreme Court will hear challenges to the former House majority leader's Texas redistricting plan.

By Tim Grieve

Published December 12, 2005 8:11PM (EST)

When Terri Schiavo died earlier this year, Tom DeLay issued what sounded like a threat against the judges who reviewed her case. "The time will come," he said, "for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior." DeLay apologized for the remark later, but he worked into his apology a plug for the book "Men in Black: How the Supreme Court Is Destroying America."

We can only wonder what DeLay has to say for himself now. As federal investigators circle around him in Washington and a criminal case bedevils him in Texas, the Hammer got more bad news on the legal front today: The Supreme Court has agreed to hear four challenges to DeLay's Texas redistricting plan. Lawyers for Democrats and minority groups say the plan, which knocked five Democrats out of the House of Representatives, went too far in creating safe districts for Republicans and discriminated against minorities in the process.

A grant of certiorari isn't a judgment on the merits, of course, but the Supreme Court wouldn't have agreed to hear the challenges unless at least four justices entertained notions of reversing a lower court decision that upheld DeLay's plan. And if you need proof of the problems with the DeLay plan, you don't have to go any further than the Justice Department itself: As the Washington Post reported the other day, six Justice Department lawyers and two Justice Department analysts who reviewed the plan concluded unanimously that it failed to comply with the Supreme Court's redistricting jurisprudence. They recommended that the Justice Department reject the DeLay plan. Senior officials in the Justice Department overruled them, the Post reported.

That intra-department conflict may prove a little embarrassing once the case comes before the Supreme Court, and the Justice Department is taking steps to make sure it never happens again. As the Post reported over the weekend, the Justice Department has imposed a new policy on Voting Rights Act cases: Staff attorneys will no longer be allowed to make recommendations.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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