Today's decision in Baldus v. Brennan and Voces De La Frontera v. Brennan is, from a political perspective, an almost complete victory for the Republicans. It orders nothing more than a change in the boundaries between the Assembly Districts 8 and 9 - neither of which is ever likely to be won by a Republican.
Everything else stays the same and all of the other claims - the claims of a partisan gerrymander, of unacceptable population deviations, of "disenfranchising" voters moved between even and odd state senate districts - are dismissed. The plan essentially stands.
I think that this is a political victory for the Republicans because the one change that the Court has ordered will not have the slightest impact on Republican electoral prospects. Whether you think that's a good or a bad thing, it is a fact.
The decision was well written although there are parts with which I would take issue. It is clear that the panel judges would have preferred a different process and a different type of plan, but they recognized that they are bound by the law and not by their own views of how things should be. They each deserve credit for that.
The only relief ordered by the court settles an internecine dispute in the Latino community. Some community leaders preferred to have one more heavily "packed" Latino district which, they thought, would be more likely to elect a candidate preferred by Latino voters. Other thought that maximizing Latino influence would be better served by having two districts with substantial Latino population. The latter view was well put by Aaron Rodriguez in a recent op-ed in the Journal Sentinel.
I don't agree with the panel's conclusion that the Voting Rights Act compels the legislature to choose one of these strategies over the other in the circumstances of this case. Its decision is, to be sure, a victory for Voces De La Frontera and (I suspect) the current incumbent over other elements of the Latino community (which is hardly uniform). It is, however, pretty much a matter of indifference to the Republicans - at least as their partisan interests are concerned.
So what happens now? From its perspective, the legislature should redraw the boundaries and call it a day. Whether that happens or not will depend on whether the senate Democrats will accept defeat and move on. They may try to block compliance with the court order unless the other districts are revisited. That won't happen and can't happen. They may hope that the court will then give them something that the Republicans won't, but the panel decision has made absolutely clear that won't happen either.
Of course, the plaintiffs may appeal but I don't see any real chance of success. If anything, the panel gave too much credence to their claims even as it rejected them. Although its not clear to me that they have anything to appeal from, I would think that Voces plaintiffs would be well advised not to appeal. They could easily lose their victory.
It is possible - although perhaps not likely - that persons in the Latino community who prefer the boundaries originally passed by the legislature will seek to intervene for purposes of appeal.
But, in the end, much sound and fury signifying very little.