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“One person, one vote” up for debate before SCOTUS

“One person, one vote” up for debate before SCOTUS

Evenwel v. Abbott could have major implications for redistricting

It’s time to define what the meaning of the word “population” is—and how it applies to the drawing of electoral districts.

In 1964, the Supreme Court ruled in Reynolds v. Sims that, under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, state legislative districts have to be about equal in population. The Court also held that population must always be the “controlling consideration” in state redistricting.

Seem straightforward? Not so fast, say two voters from Texas.

A few years ago, Sue Evenwel and Edward Pfenninger, together with the Austin-based Project on Fair Representation, sued the State of Texas over an implemented redistricting plan that redrew state senate districts based on total population, as opposed to voting population. They argue that such a standard dilutes the voting power of registered voters living in areas heavily populated with nonvoters and illegal immigrants, thus violating the principle of “one person, one vote.”

The Texas Tribune explains:

At the heart of their argument is the disparity between the number of eligible voters in rural and urban areas. For example, the project has noted that Evenwel comes from a mostly rural district with about 584,000 voters, while an adjacent, mostly urban district has just 372,000. The difference, according to the plaintiffs, means the urban voters have more influence.

The Project on Fair Representation, which is helping the plaintiffs in Evenwel v. Abbott, has a history of fighting race-based rules, including a former applicant’s challenge to the University of Texas at Austin’s affirmative action policies. In a statement Wednesday, Edward Blum, the head of the group, said the redistricting case “presents the Court with the opportunity to restore the important principle of one-person, one-vote to the citizens of Texas and elsewhere.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has focused his response on whether or not the Constitution actually requires the result Evenwel is looking for:

“Plaintiffs cite no case in which a court has accepted their claim that the Constitution compels states to apportion their legislative districts based on voter population as opposed to or in addition to total population,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton wrote in the state’s response.

“And multiple precedents from this court confirm that total population is a permissible apportionment base under the Equal Protection Clause.”

If the Court sides with Evenwel, Texas could see a power shift out of urban areas and into more rural areas, which has the potential to bode well for conservative activists and legislators looking to maintain their hold on the state legislature and executive agencies. The question is, of course, as Paxton asks: does the Constitution require this? Or does it just sound like a good idea?

It’s an important distinction.

We’ll be following Evenwel v. Abbott as the Supremes put both sides through their paces. The case is set to be argued in the fall.

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Comments

Interesting. I am a snow bird. I have a home in Washington state and a home in Arizona. However, I can only vote in one state. I can’t vote in Arizona for local issues, even issues that have an impact on my property and my taxes.

Do they count me as “population” in the Arizona district even though I (along with many snow birds) can not vote there?

    Sammy Finkelman in reply to Anchovy. | May 26, 2015 at 3:45 pm

    They count you according to how you were counted in the last census – that would be 2010.

    I think that is supposed to be where you were living on April 1, 2010. (or whatever you answered on the census form you sent in, or maybe when somebody followed up when you didn’t send it back)

    I am not sure how good they are at eliminating double counting.

    For purposes other than voting, they may sometimes impute population.

Sammy Finkelman | May 26, 2015 at 3:48 pm

In 1789 they couinted people who didn’t vote – 3/5 of slave.

It’s never been voters. When women could not vote, they didn’t count just men. They always counted children.

Many places in the 19th century had widely differing ratios of voters to people. This is besides differences that would arise from some people not being citizens of the United States.

    Bruce Hayden in reply to Sammy Finkelman. | May 27, 2015 at 4:25 am

    Sorry about the down vote. Trying to reply on my iPad, which doesn’t play well with LI.

    I think that maybe the distinguishing thing here is that the distinction here is between legals and illegals. The slaves, women, children, and even most immigrants at that time, we’re here legally. Here we are talking people who are here illegally, or at least either entered or remained here illegally. Somehow that just seems wrong, that people who snuck across the border and then probably skipped their immigration hearings if and when caught to keep from being deported, can affect representation, and, thus legislation and maybe elections.

Sammy Finkelman | May 26, 2015 at 3:59 pm

Where they could have an issue is, since apportionment is by total population does equal protection (= equal treatment) really require state legislative districts to be nearly equal in population?

Perhaps it should require districts to contain nearly equal numbers of registered voters, or, maybe better yet, a nearly equal number of voters in each district in the previous statewide election before boundaries were drawn (= CLOSEST APPROXIMATION TO ACTUAL VOTERS.)

Total population is, after all a little bit like area or GDP.

“…sued the State of Texas over an implemented redistricting plan that redrew state senate districts based on total population, as opposed to voting population…argu(ing) that such a standard dilutes the voting power of registered voters living in areas heavily populated with nonvoters and illegal immigrants…”

Not true. In fact, the opposite is true, but still a valid question is raised.

In a hypothetical district of 100 people:
District A 70/30 citizens/illegals = 1 representative for every 70 citizens
District B 30/70 citizens/illegals = 1 representative for every 30 citizens

It’s plain to see that counting illegals for redistricting purposes gives more legislative authority to the citizens in districts with more illegals than those districts with fewer illegals. As a ratio of citizen to representative of 1:1 is approached, the citizens’ voice in government becomes greater.

However, the more non-citizens there are in total across a state, the more districts there are (unless the rules for redistricting are changed to allow more people in each district). So the power of each representative in the legislature is diminished. Still, each representative is the equal of every other. The distortion comes from the fact that some reps will represent fewer citizens than others, still giving those citizens a greater voice than those whose reps give voice to more citizens (districts with fewer illegals).

Sammy Finkelman | May 26, 2015 at 4:29 pm

blockquote> In a hypothetical district of 100 people:
District A 70/30 citizens/illegals = 1 representative for every 70 citizens

District B 30/70 citizens/illegals = 1 representative for every 30 citizens You’re right, but these people don’t like that, because, in most cases, non-citizens reside in areas with a lot of people similiar or symoathetic to them, so it give s thiose citizens with sympathies toward illegal or other immigrants more power.
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It’s plain to see that counting illegals for redistricting purposes gives more legislative authority to the citizens in districts with more illegals than those districts with fewer illegals. As a ratio of citizen to representative of 1:1 is approached, the citizens’ voice in government becomes greater.

However, the more non-citizens there are in total across a state, the more districts there are (unless the rules for redistricting are changed to allow more people in each district). So the power of each representative in the legislature is diminished. Still, each representative is the equal of every other. The distortion comes from the fact that some reps will represent fewer citizens than others, still giving those citizens a greater voice than those whose reps give voice to more citizens (districts with fewer illegals).

Sammy Finkelman | May 26, 2015 at 4:32 pm

The website or software is not behaving properly. This got sent too soon.

Anyway the point is, areas with more illegal immigrants have citizens who are more sympathetic to them.

The only place theer are more districts is in the U.S. House of Representatives. the number of state legislative districts is fixed. Counting only adult citizens or whatever would gove areas that don’t have non citizens a greater number of seats than currently.

They are asking for a major change in the law.

That should be done legislatively instead. But it has no chance of success there (requiring a Constitutional Amendment), so we run to federal court seeking new “rights” or their “penumbra?”

How is that any different than leftist tactics?

    stevewhitemd in reply to Estragon. | May 26, 2015 at 5:13 pm

    They aren’t seeking a major change in law, they’re asking the law to follow the Constitution — in this case, the 14th Amendment, or at least their reading of the 14th.

    I don’t see the problem, and I don’t have a problem when liberals ask government to follow the Constitution. I only get upset when liberals use courts to evade the Constitution. I don’t see anyone doing that here.

I would prefer Sims get reversed in its entirety. It’s a leftist botch job that destroyed state senates, just like 17A screwed up the US senate. Now they’re just super-houses rather than modeled after the US senate like they were supposed to be.

Where’s the beef. The Plaintiffs below are complaining that the illegal aliens in their district are diluting their vote. That’s backwards. When your illegal alien neighbors are counted for representation, that is concentrating your vote, not diluting it.

If I lived in a legislative district with no other eligible voters and no one else but illegal aliens, I would get my own congressman or whatever. What’s wrong with that? Hell, I could just vote for myself and then be the representative for thousands of los Mojados.

Representatives are supposed to represent the citizens in their district. Not just the registered voters, and not the illegals and not the tourists and not the guest workers.

In Kostick v. Nago the Supreme Court allowed Hawaii to exclude nearly all non-permanent resident Military and their spouses, along with non-permanent resident students. Why would illegal immigrants and other non-citizens be any different? And are those military members and students part of the non-voters that Mr. Blum wants to exclude?

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