U.S. Supreme Court holds Texas can use total population for voting districts vs voter-eligible population

Evenwel v. Abbott 14-940 (U.S. April 4, 2016).

This is a voter rights case where the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that Texas can utilize total state population in drawing district lines instead of voter-eligible population.

Texas draws its legislative districts on the basis of total population. Plaintiffs/appellants are Texas voters; they challenge this uniform method of districting on the ground that it produces unequal districts when measured by voter-eligible population. Plaintiffs argue voter-eligible population must be used to ensure that their votes will not be devalued in relation to citizens’ votes in other districts. A three-judge District Court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim on which relief could be granted. Plaintiffs appealed.

This is a long set of opinions. I say again, this is a very long set of opinions, totaling 56 pages worth. However, the bottom line is the Court held consistent with constitutional history States and localities may comply with the one-person, one-vote principle by designing districts with equal total populations.   The Court went through a long history of events dating back to the debates of the first Constitutional Congress as well as the federal courts’ tradition of abstaining from interfering with legislative districting calculations. The Court analyzed the fierce divergence between proponents of total population districts and voter-registration proponents citing the public policy reasons for each. Ultimately, the Court held “[a]s 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.” Because constitutional history, precedent, and practice support a total population usage, the dismissal of the Plaintiffs’ claims was proper.

If you would like to read this set of opinions, click here. Justice Ginsburg delivered the opinion of the Court. Justice Thomas concurred. Justice Alito wrote his own concurring opinion. The docket page with attorney listings can be found here.