Supreme Court rules against conservative voter rights case
Samantha Lachman of The Huffington Post reports that Democrats and voting rights advocates won a “huge victory” at the Supreme Court on Monday with a unanimous decision preserving the way state legislative districts are currently drawn.
In the case, Evenwell v. Abbott, conservatives in Texas argued that the votes of eligible voters are constitutionally diluted because the state counts nonvoters when drawing its legislative districts (Huff Post). Texas uses total population data, which includes children, inmates, ex-felons, and noncitizen immigrants who are unable to vote.
The appellants proposed that states should be required to draw districts based on the number of eligible voters in an area, rather than the total population (Huff Post). After being ruled against in a district court in Texas, the Supreme Court heard their arguments in December. If the Supreme Court would have ruled in their favor, political power could be shifted away from “urban, younger, more Latino and therefor more Democratic-leaning areas toward rural, older, more white and therefore more Republican-leaning regions of the state,” according to Lachman (Huff Post). A favorable ruling would have also presented a considerable workload for every state in the country, as most voting districts would have to be redrawn.
But all Supreme Court justices ruled against the appellants on Monday (April 4). Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion, stating, “As constitutional history, precedent, or practice demonstrate, a State or locality may draw its legislative districts based on total population” (Huff Post).
She went on to say, “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…Nonvoters have an important stake in many policy debates and in receiving constituent services. By ensuring that each representative is subject to requests and suggestions fro the same number of constituents, total-population apportionment promotes equitable and effective representation” (Huff Post).
A serious problem in the appellants’ argument was that datasets for voter eligible populations do not necessarily exist in the states where district lines would have to be redrawn. Before considering the case, the Supreme Court had never specifically addressed whether state legislative districts should have roughly the same number of people or the same number of eligible voters. According to the 14th Amendment, the census must count “the whole number of persons in each State” every 10 years for the purpose of apportioning seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, but does not specify how to deal with legislative districts (Huff Post).
One of the advocates of the case, Edward Blum, said, “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” (Huff Post).
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