The Supreme Court dealt a stunning affirmation of the principle of “one person, one vote” Monday with a unanimous decision on a Texas case supporting drawing legislative district lines based on total population, not just eligible voters.
The decision is a landmark victory for minority groups and civil liberties organizations, which have been fighting voting rights cases they warned would hurt minority representation. A decision to exclude noncitizens and people under 18 would have had a huge impact on districts with large Latino and black populations.
The Texas case, Evenwel v. Abbott, was brought by two individuals who challenged state Senate lines they said over-represented nonvoters and diluted the value of their votes. Greg Abbott was the state’s attorney general and is now the governor.
State officials said they’re pleased with the outcome. “We are pleased with the unanimous decision of the court. My office is committed to defending the Constitution and ensuring the state legislature, representing the citizens, continues to have the freedom to ensure voting rights consistent with the Constitution,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement.
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Edward Blum, president of The Project on Fair Representation, which provided counsel to the plaintiffs, said in a statement that he was disappointed the court did not accept what he considered the original intent of the writers of the 14th Amendment, to measure districts by voters. “We are disappointed that the justices were unwilling to re-establish the original principle of one person, one vote for the citizens of Texas and elsewhere,” said Blum, who added that the issue “was not going to go away.”
The Supreme Court’s 8-0 ruling supports the total population standard that is used by virtually all state and local jurisdictions. The court has only eight members because of the death in February of Justice Antonin Scalia. In oral arguments last December, judges were skeptical about changing the standard.
The court decision, written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, says: “Settled practice confirms what constitutional history and prior decisions strongly suggest. Adopting voter-eligible apportionment as constitutional command would upset a well-functioning approach to districting that all 50 states and countless local jurisdictions have long followed.”
“As the Framers of the Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment comprehended, representatives serve all residents, not just those eligible to vote. Nonvoters have an important stake in many policy debates and in receiving constituent services,” the court concluded. “By ensuring that each representative is subject to requests and suggestions from the same number of constituents, total-population apportionment promotes equitable and effective representation.”
‘A slam-dunk win’
“It’s a slam-dunk win for the state of Texas and the Justice Department,” said Alan Clayton, a redistricting expert in California. “It’s a massive win for people who support the use of population in redistricting and a massive loss for people who want to use eligible voters.”
Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said that government lawyers were pleased with the court’s ruling, saying that “generally speaking, it’s consistent with the arguments that the government has made” about redistricting.
Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Texas, who is African-American and represents portions of Fort Worth in a North Texas district, said, “Today, the Supreme Court rejected the political argument that children and thousands of other hardworking, tax-paying adults don’t count and don’t deserve representation. Everyone must be counted in our democracy and as elected officials we have a responsibility to represent everyone in our districts.”
Minority activist organizations, such as the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, welcomed the decision. The fund’s president and general counsel, Thomas A. Saenz, said in a statement, “In a tremendous victory for democratic representation that recognizes that all constituents count, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected the plaintiffs’ fatally flawed argument that states should count only voters in drawing districts.”
In Texas, Latinos are 36 percent of the population but only 26 percent of registered voters.
This report includes material from The New York Times.