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Decisions: No ruling on Hamdan; partisan gerrymander claim rejected

(NOTE: The Chief Justice announced that the Court will issue remaining decisions in the Term at 10 a.m. Thursday. The two still-undecided cases are the war crimes tribunal case (Hamdan v. Rumsfeld) and a test of the right to raise an insanity defense to disprove criminal intent (Clark v.Arizona).The Court issued three rulings on Wednesday.)

The Supreme Court, splintering widely, on Wednesday found an insufficient claim of partisan gerrymandering in the Texas congressional redistricting. It also rejected a challenge to mid-decade congressional redistricting. It did not rule on whether all partisan gerrymander claims are beyond judicial review. The Court is split on that issue, and the division remains. It found the state’s new District 23 invalid under the federal Voting Rights Act. District 24 was upheld against a Voting Rights Act challenge. The opinion can be found here.

Here is a key paragraph in Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s plurality opinion in the Texas redistricting case: “In sum, we disagree with appellants’ view that a legislature’s decision to override a valid, court-drawn plan mid-decade is sufficiently suspect to give shape to a reliable standard for identifying unconstiutitonal political gerrymanders. We conclude that appellants have established no legally iimpermissible use of political classifications. For this reason, they state no claim on which relief may be granted for their statewide challenge.”

The District that the Court found legally wanting is a huge Latino-dominated district that the state created in an attempt to salvage the political fortunes of a Latino member of Congress, Republican Henry Bonilla. He had been losing strength among Latino voters, so the state legislature drew a new district by including a largely Anglo, Republican area in central Texas. That, a Court majority found, was the product of a “troubling blend of politics and race — and the resulting vote dilution of a group that was beginning to achieve [the Voting Rights Act’s] goal of overcoming prior electorial discrimination.” It “cannot be sustained,” the Court concluded.

Whether the state legislature can repair the problem found by the Court in that one District without redrawing the plan statewide is uncertain at this point. The Court majority found no legal flaw in any other part of the plan.

In a second ruling — written by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. — the Court concluded that states may bar foreign nationals from raising the issue of their treaty rights to talk with a consular officer , if they did not raise that issue at trial. The Court majority said that the outcome was dictated by the Court’s 1998 summary decision in Breard v. Greene. The Court did not resolve the issue of whether individuals could sue to enforce the consular rights treaty, the Vienna

In a 5-3 ruling, the Court decided that prison officials may deny newspapers, magazines and photographs to their most dangerous inmates. The plurality opinion by Justice Stephen G. Breyer upheld such a ban. Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., took no part. He had dissented when the Third Circuit struck down the ban. (Correction: the vote was 6-2.)