In a ruling that has significant implications for elections, the Supreme Court today ruled unanimously to reject a conservative challenge about the way voting districts are drawn.Via The New York Times:
The Supreme Court on Monday unanimously ruled that states may count all residents, whether or not they are eligible to vote, in drawing election districts. The decision was a major statement on the meaning of a fundamental principle of the American political system, that of “one person one vote.”
As a practical matter, the ruling mostly helped Democrats.
Until this decision, the court had never resolved whether voting districts should contain the same number of people, or the same number of eligible voters. Counting all people amplifies the voting power of places that have large numbers of residents who cannot vote legally — including immigrants who are here legally but are not citizens, illegal immigrants, children and prisoners. Those places tend to be urban and to vote Democratic.
Had the justices required that only eligible voters could be counted, the ruling would have shifted political power from cities to rural areas, a move that would have benefited Republicans.
The case, Evenwel v. Abbott, No. 14-940, was a challenge to voting districts for the Texas Senate that was brought by two voters, Sue Evenwel and Edward Pfenninger. They were represented by the Project on Fair Representation, a small conservative advocacy group that successfully mounted an earlier challenge to the Voting Rights Act.
This is potentially a big deal for conservatives and could have a big impact on elections moving forward. Counting groups ineligible to vote in drawing voting districts favors Democrats, as the NYT notes. And with Democrats, led by President Obama, continuing to make it easier for illegal immigrants, for example, to come and stay in the United States, the impact could continue to grow.
Interesting to note that this was a unanimous decision by the court — not split down ideological lines.
One thing to consider: the court appeared to leave the door open for deciding whether other ways of counting residents for the purposes of drawing voting districts are permissible.
“We need not and do not resolve,” JusticeRuth Bader Ginsburg wrote for six justices, whether “states may draw districts to equalize voter-eligible population rather than total population.”
I suspect we haven’t heard the last of this topic in the courts.
Even beyond the specifics of how voting districts are drawn, this issue of how “one person, one vote” is defined potentially can have far-reaching implications for how our elections are decided. Is it, for example, “one person” who is actually who he/she says she is — rather than simply someone “vouched for” by another person? Is it “one person” who is still living on this earth? You see where I’m going here…
And while decidedly less dramatic than some of the campaign trail antics the media wants us to follow, this is the kind of devil-in-the-details stuff that can have a significant impact on our nation’s elections.
[Note: This article was written by Michelle Jesse, Associate Editor]