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Supreme Court Upholds “One Person, One Vote”

The decision ensures districts will continue to be based on total population — a big win for fair representation.

April 4, 2016

In an 8–0 decision released today, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld “one person, one vote,” ruling in Even­wel v. Abbott that state legis­lat­ive districts should continue to be drawn by total popu­la­tion, not total number of voters.

“Today’s decision is a big win for fair repres­ent­a­tion,” said Michael Li, senior coun­sel in the Bren­nan Center’s Demo­cracy Program and an expert on redis­trict­ing. “Redraw­ing districts the way the Even­wel plaintiffs wanted would have made every legis­lat­ive map in the coun­try uncon­sti­tu­tional and required massively shift­ing polit­ical repres­ent­a­tion out of fast-grow­ing urban and suburban communit­ies to rural and slower grow­ing areas.”

The Court took the case last May, after a three-judge district court in Texas upheld the “one person, one vote” prin­ciple under the 14th Amend­ment’s Equal Protec­tion Clause. The plaintiffs argued that basing legis­lat­ive districts on total popu­la­tion meant that some districts have many more actual voters than others, espe­cially in places like Texas with large numbers of non-citizens.  

Virtu­ally every juris­dic­tion in the coun­try draws districts using total popu­la­tion, where a person is coun­ted as a person whether or not she is a citizen or non-citizen, or under the age of 18.

“Today’s ruling affirms the long­stand­ing state prac­tice of count­ing every­one in redis­trict­ing,” said Wendy Weiser, director of the Demo­cracy Program. “It affirms the prin­ciple that the govern­ment repres­ents all the people, and helps ensure that efforts to manip­u­late voting rules won’t impact repres­ent­a­tion.”

The Bren­nan Center filed an amicus brief in the case last Septem­ber based on consti­tu­tional history. The Court’s opin­ion mirrored several of the argu­ments in the Bren­nan Center brief.