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Apr 04 2016

SCOTUS: One Person, One Vote Upheld

The US Supreme Court handed a conservative challenge to one person, one vote principle a unanimous defeat. In Evenwel v Abbott the court ruled (pdf) that states could count the total population, not just eligible voters, in drawing legislative districts. The plaintiffs claimed that redrawing electoral districts based on the population of citizens and non-citizens alike violates the constitutional requirement of one person, one vote. They also claimed that taking account of total population could lead to vast differences in the number of voters in particular districts, along with corresponding differences in the power of those voters.

Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the majority:

Constitutional history shows that, at the time of the founding, the Framers endorsed allocating House seats to States based on total population. Debating what would become the Fourteenth Amendment, Congress reconsidered the proper basis for apportioning House seats. Retaining the total-population rule, Congress rejected proposals to allocate House seats to States on the basis of voter population. [..] The Framers recognized that use of a total-population baseline served the principle of representational equality. Appellants’ voter-population rule is inconsistent with the “theory of the Constitution,” [..]

This Court’s past decisions reinforce the conclusion that States and localities may comply with the one-person, one-vote principle by designing districts with equal total populations. Appellants assert that language in this Court’s precedent supports their view that States should equalize the voter-eligible population of districts. But for every sentence appellants quote, one could respond with a line casting the one-person, one-vote guarantee in terms of equality of representation. [..]

Settled practice confirms what constitutional history and prior decisions strongly suggest. Adopting voter-eligible apportionment as constitutional command would upset a well-functioning approach to districting that all 50 States and countless local jurisdictions have long followed. As the Framers of the Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment comprehended, representatives serve all residents, not just those eligible to vote. Nonvoters have an important stake in many policy debates and in receiving constituent services. By ensuring that each representative is subject to requests and suggestions from the same number of constituents, total-population apportionment promotes equitable and effective representation.

The unanimity comes as a surprise after the court had virtually dismantled the 1965 Voting Rights Act in 2013 by invalidating a key provision.

This will not be the end of the billionaire backed conservative movement to dismantle the democracy and disenfranchise minorities and the poor.