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Evenwel v. Abbott (Amicus Brief)

On April 4, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the longstanding practice of drawing legislative districts on the basis of total population.

Published: April 4, 2016

On April 4, the Supreme Court unan­im­ously upheld the long­stand­ing prac­tice of draw­ing legis­lat­ive districts on the basis of total popu­la­tion. Justice Gins­bur­g’s opin­ion uphold­ing the one-person, one-vote prin­ciple is a big win for fair repres­ent­a­tion and helps guard against efforts to manip­u­late voting rules.

Case Back­ground

States have typic­ally been given the author­ity to decide how to count their popu­la­tion for redis­trict­ing purposes. And at present, every juris­dic­tion in the coun­try draws districts using some form of total popu­la­tion, mean­ing that the goal for mapdraw­ers is simply to make sure that districts contain the same total number of people. Under this system, it does not matter when calcu­lat­ing the target popu­la­tion for each district whether someone is a citizen or non-citizen, under the age of 18, or other­wise eligible to vote – a person is a person.

A group of Texas resid­ents chal­lenged this long­stand­ing prac­tice, however, with respect to Texas’ state senate districts, contend­ing that in places like Texas that have large numbers of non-citizens, calcu­lat­ing the number of people in each district based on total popu­la­tion causes some districts to have many more actual voters than others. They said this prac­tice viol­ates the Consti­tu­tion’s one-person, one-vote prin­ciple and that juris­dic­tions should be required to draw districts on the basis of citizen popu­la­tion over the age of 18, or some equi­val­ent meas­ure.

A unan­im­ous three-judge panel of the United States District Court for the West­ern District of Texas rejec­ted the chal­lenge on Novem­ber 5, 2014, hold­ing that the plaintiffs failed to show that the state’s use of total popu­la­tion viol­ated their rights under the Equal Protec­tions Clause.

If the Supreme Court had reversed the district court, the change could have dramat­ic­ally impacted minor­ity repres­ent­a­tion where the popu­la­tion contains large numbers of non-citizens or people under 18. Some observ­ers, for example, poin­ted out that it could have made it much more diffi­cult to draw major­ity-minor­ity districts if states were required to draw districts based on citizen voting popu­la­tion. They also noted that, in addi­tion to remov­ing non-citizens, such a rule would exclude chil­dren and citizens who are simply not registered to vote. This exclu­sion, advoc­ates for using total popu­la­tion argued, would be improper because chil­dren and non-citizen perman­ent resid­ents still require constitu­ent services from their elec­ted offi­cials and, as a result, exclud­ing them would dilute their repres­ent­a­tion.

The district court opin­ion is avail­able here. The tran­script of the oral argu­ment is avail­able here and the audio is avail­able here.

US Supreme Court Opin­ions

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Earlier US Supreme Court Docu­ments

Before Noting of Prob­able Juris­dic­tion

Amicus Briefs In Support of Appel­lants’ Juris­dic­tional State­ment