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Evenwel v. Texas, a Rare Unanimous Decision

Categories: Drew Whitcup, ZiR

downloadLast December, I wrote about the arguments before the Supreme Court in the case of Evenwel v. Texas. The plaintiffs were attempting to use the “one person, one vote” principle established by a history of Court rulings to change the system of apportioning Texas’ congressional districts. Currently, states use total population in dividing up districts. The plaintiffs in Evenwel sought to compel Texas to only use eligible voters, thus excluding non-citizen immigrants, felons, and other ineligible residents from being counted. This week, the Court unanimously declined to change the current system.

Tierney Sneed at Talking Points Memo explains:

The challengers had argued the use of total population — which includes non-citizens, but also children and disenfranchise prisoners — to draw districts was unconstitutional because it diluted the political power of eligible voters. Civil rights advocates argued that the lawsuit was an attempt to increase the political power of white suburban and rural voters, who tend to vote Republican, at the cost of minority and urban communities, which have a larger share of non-eligible voters in their districts.

The lawsuit was spearheaded by Edward Blum, a conservative legal advocate who has also targeted the Voting Rights Act and college affirmative action policies through legal challenges. The plaintiffs were Texas voters objecting to the state’s Senate districting plan, who said their votes counted less than the votes in neighboring districts where there are a lower percentage of eligible voters.

In her majority opinion, [Justice Ruth Bader] Ginsburg said that the challengers had failed to show that the Texas districting plan was unconstitutional. She also said that the challengers did not present a convincing argument that districts should be drawn to have roughly equal number of voters, rather than total populations.

Some commentators (myself included) feared that in a nine-justice Court, the plaintiffs could manage to find a majority of Justices who would agree with them, thus drastically reducing the representation afforded some of Texas’ (and eventually the nation’s) most vulnerable citizens. With only eight Justices voting, the status quo seemed somewhat safer. A unanimous decision, however, is a pleasant surprise. Apparently, there are some right wing overreaches that fall on deaf ears in the Supreme Court, although it should be noted that where Ginsburg found the proposed change to run counter to the intent of the Fourteenth Amendment, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito were more muted in their concurrence:

Thomas, who the challengers had hoped would be sympathetic to their claims, wrote that the Supreme Court had still left the issue very muddled over the history of its decisions in redistricting cases.

‘Under these circumstances, the choice is best left for the people of the States to decide for themselves how they should apportion their legislature,’ he said.

Alito, likewise, said that he agreed with the majority that a state should be permitted to use total population, but that the majority went too far in arguing the historical and constitutional contexts that supported using total population.

‘It is impossible to draw any clear constitutional command from this complex history,’ Alito wrote.

Even in unanimity, this Court finds ways to carve out their distinct ideological positions.

— Drew Whitcup, Zeteo Contributing Writer


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1 Comment to “Evenwel v. Texas, a Rare Unanimous Decision”

  1. William Eaton says:

    A very large category of Texas residents who are not eligible to vote: children who are citizens.(A smaller category: children who are not citizens.) We understand why children are not given the right to vote, but I would think that most Americans do feel that children who are citizens should be as equally (or as well) represented as other citizens. If I understand the Texas proposal, it would not have counted a child as 3/5ths of a person, the way a slave used to be. It would have counted a child as 0/5ths of a person. But perhaps I’m missing something?

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