Z e t e o
Reading, Looking, Listening, . . . Questioning

Representation Under Attack

Categories: Drew Whitcup, ZiR

cornice of US Supreme Court building in Washington, DCWriting for Slate.com, Dahlia Lithwick discusses the case of Evenwel v. Abbottwhich was argued yesterday in the US Supreme Court. Lithwick sums up the competing positions:

In the plainest sense, Evenwel v. Abbott simply asks the court to determine whether states—in this case Texas—should apportion legislative districts by counting the total population (as determined through the census) or the number of eligible voters. The plaintiffs, Sue and Edward Pfenninger, contend that basing apportionment on persons rather than voters violates the line of 50-year-old cases, including Reynolds v. Sims, that established the principle of ‘one person, one vote’ the court has located in the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.

Apportioning districts is obviously very important to a person or group of people’s political clout. Residents of a particular district benefit (arguably, at least) from even legislative representation. If a large group of people (non-citizen immigrants, for example) are not accounted for in the process, their needs are more likely to go unmet:

If the court sides with Evenwel and accepts the view that only voters or even registered voters are to be counted when drawing district lines, children, legal residents, and people who have committed felonies or the mentally ill—all of whom are certainly affected when legislators legislate—are not to be counted for apportionment purposes. In the words of the Obama administration, which sides with Texas in this case against the two plaintiffs, whole swaths of the population become ‘invisible or irrelevant to our system of representative democracy.’

Lithwick goes on to recount some of the questions posed by the nine Justices, and what they may mean for the Court’s ultimate opinion. Sadly, there are four justices on the bench now who can almost always be trusted to vote in line with right wing principles. With that in mind, one can predict the conservative bloc to side with the plaintiffs, who— a cynical analysis would suggest— are seeking to limit the power and influence of immigrants, minorities, and city dwellers in general:

As a practical matter, if the plaintiffs win this appeal, power will shift markedly from urban voters to rural voters and to white and Republican districts over minority and Democratic ones.

Lithwick herself is unwilling to make any bold predictions:

It’s not clear that there are five votes to accept the Evenwel argument, but it’s clear that the conservative justices are bothered by what Kennedy sees as a massive disparity in some areas. Whether there is a will to upend a constitutional idea that has been undisturbed for 50 years and a methodology that is used in every state on the guarantee that the states can work out the details later is another matter. But there just might be.

Writing in 1964 the court famously noted that ‘legislators represent people, not trees or acres.’ The question the court must now decide is how to choose which people we want to represent. That proves far more complicated than counting trees.

— Drew Whitcup, Zeteo Contributing Writer

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