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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.