On Tuesday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case if states should draw voting districts based on eligible voters, instead of total populations.
The case — Evenwel v. Abbott — stems from the 2013 redistricting of 31 seats in the Texas Senate, which was based on 2010 census population figures alone. Texas voters Sue Evenwel and Edward Pfenninger sued then-Texas Governor Rick Perry and then-Texas Secretary of State Nandita Berry for allegedly violating the “one-person, one-vote” principle of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause by not dividing districts in a manner that equalized both total population and voter population.
This principle requires that, “when members of an elected body are chosen from separate districts, each district must be established on a basis that will insure, as far as is practicable, that equal numbers of voters can vote for proportionally equal numbers of officials.”
The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the state, which argued that there was no legal basis for Evenwel and Pfenninger’s claims that the new election districts were unconstitutional.
Why is this being heard and possible consequences if the SCOTUS sides with Evenwel and Pfenninger’s claims…
A 1964 Supreme Court decision, Reynolds v. Sims, ruled that voting districts must contain very close to the same number of people. But the court did not say which people count.
Almost all state and local governments draw districts based on total population. If people who were ineligible to vote were evenly distributed, the difference between counting all people or counting only eligible voters would not matter. But demographic patterns vary widely.
If the challengers succeed, the practical consequences would be enormous, Joseph R. Fishkin, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin wrote in 2012 in The Yale Law Journal.
It would, he said, “shift power markedly at every level, away from cities and neighborhoods with many immigrants and many children and toward the older, whiter, more exclusively native-born areas in which a higher proportion of the total population consists of eligible voters.”
That sounds like a bit more of the erosion of representation of the people. Election Finance Laws, the Voting Rights Amendment, voter ID laws and the list goes on. I am just wondering where these Texas voters got this great idea…
The organization behind the challenge, the Project on Fair Representation, also was the brainchild of other major Supreme Court cases challenging minority preferences. Among them: Fisher v. University of Texas, challenging the use of affirmative action policies in college admissions, and Shelby County, Ala., v. Holder, challenging a major section of the Voting Rights Act.
The challengers were backed by a half-dozen conservative and libertarian groups, an unusually large number for a case that had yet to be granted by the high court. But it appears they were persuasive.
I guess the “real constituency” is dying out and needs a boost of power.
Evenwel v. Abbott will be heard by the SCOTUS in the fall.