Supreme Court accepts one person, one vote case for fall

There were no major decisions at the Supreme Court on Tuesday but a significant new case about voting representation was accepted for arguments this fall.

SupremeCourt_insideThe Court accepted jurisdiction for the case of Evenwel v. Abbott in its Tuesday case orders. The case has been closely watched as an important test of the “one-person, one-vote concept.”

Constitution Daily contributor and National Constitution Center constitutional literacy adviser Lyle Denniston analyzed the Evenwel case for us last week as one to watch for the Court’s next term.

“The target of this complaint is a redistricting plan that the Texas legislature drafted in 2013, creating new districts for electing the 31 members of the state senate.   The legislature decided that it would proceed on a theory of equal representation by actual population. It came very close to achieving absolute equality among the 31 districts using that measure: between the largest and the smallest, there was only a mere 8.04 percent difference,” Denniston explained.

“But because some of the districts actually had many more registered voters in them than were in other districts, using voting age population as the decider, the difference between the largest and the smallest rose to as much as 49 percent. That meant, when it came to election time, that voters in districts with the lowest proportions of voters would cast votes that were about one and a half times more powerful than in the other districts.   The smaller the number of voters, the more power they had in voting,” he added.

Denniston said the case, if accepted, would ask “the Justices to declare for the first time that one-person, one-vote doctrine requires a legislature to use voting population numbers – at least when using total population numbers would cause serious disparities in the strength of the votes that will be cast.”

“Total population as the metric could be valid, the argument goes, but only when it does not produce the kind of skewed results that it has in Texas for state senate elections,” he said.

The Supreme Court in 1964 decided in Reynolds v. Sims, that the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause demanded “no less than substantially equal state legislative representation for all citizens.”

So when state legislatures now create districts for electing public officials, districts have to be equal, or close to equal, in the people represented – some of whom may not be eligible to vote because of age and citizenry restrictions.

The Supreme Court’s next term starts in October 2015 and the case will possibly be heard early in that term.

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