THE Supreme Court on Monday, April 4, unanimously upheld that the traditional method in which voting districts are created – based on total population – is constitutional.
The lawsuit that challenged the rule was brought on behalf of Sue Evenwel, a Republican county official from East Texas who claimed that the way individuals are counted when drawing districts was “diluting” votes of citizens like herself.
Conservatives wanted districts to be based only on voting-age populations.
“As history, precedent, and practice demonstrate, it is plainly permissible for jurisdictions to measure equalization by the total population of state and local legislative districts,” wrote Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the majority decision.
Had the high court ruled otherwise in the case (Evenwel vs. Abott), power would have been shifted to Republican, rural districts, and away from Democratic urban areas, Richard Hasen, an expert in election law at UC Irvine Law School, told the Associated Press. It would have also eliminated many representatives from areas surrounding Los Angeles and Houston where many are immigrants who aren’t citizens.
The decision comes as a victory for the Asian Americans, who constitute about 6 percent of the population in the United States, according to a 2011 report by the Pew Research Center.
“We are pleased that the U.S. Supreme Court agrees that in our democracy, elected officials do not only represent the people who voted for them or the people who are eligible to vote, but everyone in the community, including children and other not-yet-eligible voters,” Mee Moua, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC, said in a statement. “Particularly in this election year, the ruling is a timely reminder that those who cannot or do not vote are still impacted by government: they attend public schools and universities, walk and drive on public roads, and depend on so many more government services. This is a huge win for our democracy and today’s decision ensures that all members of society are represented by our government.”
Stewart Kwoh, president and executive director of Advancing Justice – Los Angeles, noted in a statement that 20 percent of Asian Americans in California – or nearly 1.2 million children and adults – are not yet US citizens.
“Had the Supreme Court ruled that district lines need to be drawn based only on eligible voters, 2.3 million Asian Americans in California would have been discounted, including immigrants and youth who are not able to vote,” he said.
Edward Blum, the conservative activist who launched the suit, said he was “disappointed that the justices were unwilling to reestablish the original principle of one person, one vote for the citizens of Texas and elsewhere. But the issue of voter equality in the United States is not going to go away,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
The top court, however, did not vote on whether it would be constitutional for states to adopt such a rule if it chooses to do so. The Obama administration argued such a move would be unconstitutional.
“Whether a state is permitted to use some measure other than total population is an important and sensitive question that we can consider if and when we have before us a state districting plan that, unlike the current Texas plan, uses something other than total population as the basis for equalizing the size of districts,” said Justice Samuel Alito, who concurred with the decision but wrote a separate opinion.