Commentary: Lou Dobbs' 'activist judges' rant becomes Daily Show shtick

I'm still perplexed about what Texas redistricting case Lou Dobbs was talking about.

On Monday night, Dobbs took a Jon Stewart metaphor about wealthy people "gerrymandering" themselves into continued prosperity and veered into spouting "facts" about Texas redistricting that were -- to put it politely -- totally fabricated.

It appeared as though when Dobbs heard "gerrymandering," the word association in his brain immediately dialed up "activist judges," and off he went making up stuff about what the Supreme Court supposedly ruled in the convoluted scuffle over Texas' voting districts.

Stewart hadn't even started out addressing the Lone Star State or politics during the exchange on Comedy Central's late-night The Daily Show.

He was trying to get Dobbs, now a radio show host and FoxBusiness commentator, to acknowledge that criticizing the perversions of capitalism wasn't the same as attacking the system itself.

Of course, Dobbs wasn't going to concede any such thing. But he didn't even attempt a cogent argument as to why Stewart was wrong, either, even though that would have made for intelligent, worthwhile debate.

Instead, Dobbs used the old politician's dodge: ignore the question and answer one that never was posed in order to hammer in his talking point. (Watch here: bit.ly/yeDvI7)

Except his "activist judges" whine consisted of misinformation devoid of fact.

Dobbs insisted -- despite Stewart's attempt to correct him -- that the Supreme Court had told federal judges in San Antonio they should only have redrawn four voting districts in Texas.

Dobbs' claim was that the San Antonio judges redrew all the voting districts in Texas and the high court said nay, nay, abuse of power.

"It's checks and balances if they go beyond the four districts in question," Dobbs said.

While that might have happened in a Dobbsian parallel universe, it didn't happen in the real world.

Sure, Texas redistricting could classify as a world unto itself, but at least it's somewhat grounded in reality.

The three-judge federal panel in San Antonio drew three maps -- for the statehouse and Congress -- because the Legislature's maps haven't yet been approved, which they must be under the Voting Rights Act for use in once-delayed and rapidly approaching party primaries.

A three-judge federal panel in Washington, D.C, heard closing arguments Tuesday in a hearing to determine which parts of the state's maps are legal and which, if any, violate the rights of African-American and Hispanic voters and must be revised.

The Supreme Court on Jan. 20 said the San Antonio panel should follow the state's plans more closely unless there's a "reasonable probability" that particular districts are racially discriminatory: "Some specific aspects of the District Court's plans seem to pay adequate attention to the State's policies, others do not, and the propriety of still others is unclear," the justices wrote.

Nothing in that opinion about "you can only redo four districts." (Read it: www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/11pdf/11-713.pdf)

(To be fair, let's point out that the Texas Democratic Party issued its own whopper after the Supreme Court's ruling, saying "the state's original maps have been found to be discriminatory in some way by every court which has examined them." bit.ly/w5saFt)

State Sen. Wendy Davis' central Fort Worth district is the main point of dispute over the Legislature's Senate map. And there's a question of whether five state House districts in the Lege's plan diminish minorities' ability to elect their preferred candidates.

Texas is getting four new congressional seats because of population growth, and there's a fierce tug of war over where those will land. The Legislature drew one new district linking parts of Arlington to Parker County, a disparate coupling clearly favoring Republicans. But the San Antonio panel put the new district squarely in Tarrant County, and Democrats were elated.

The Supremes questioned why the San Antonio court did that -- but didn't flatly call it wrong.

Now, the San Antonio court is under pressure to approve interim maps for primaries that might or might not be held April 3. If the D.C. court doesn't rule in time for its findings to be incorporated into those interim maps, that prong of the litigation could continue into next year.

Both courts are having to overlay sometimes-murky legal rules on partisan political actions and find the right answers. It's a role only masochists or redistricting nerds could love.

But the wonky details don't rouse an audience nearly the way incendiary but largely meaningless epithets like "activist judges" do.


Linda P. Campbell is a Star-Telegram editorial writer.