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“One person, one vote” upheld

More accurately, a challenge to the constitutional doctrine of “one person, one vote” was dismissed by the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court has rejected a conservative challenge to the common practice of counting everyone, not just U.S. citizens, when adjusting the size of voting districts across the nation.

Without comment, the justices let stand a redistricting rule that benefits urban areas like Los Angeles and Chicago that have a higher percentage of noncitizens as residents.

Since the 1960s, the court has said that election districts should be equal in size under the so-called one person, one vote rule. Under this rule, U.S. representatives, state legislators, city council members and county board members usually represent about the same number of people.

But the court had not ruled directly on whether these districts should be counted based on the number of persons who live there or on the number of citizens who are eligible to vote.

A conservative group called the Project on Fair Representation has led the challenge to the Voting Rights Act in a case from Alabama. Its lawyers filed a separate appeal in a Texas case that urged the justices to revisit the one person, one vote rule and say that only eligible voters should be counted.

Their lawyers argued that because of “changing immigration patterns,” the standard method of counting all residents shifts political power “away from rural communities to urban centers with high concentrations of residents who are ineligible to vote.”

The case arose from an appeal by the city of Irving to a federal court ruling ordering them to use single-member Council districts, which would include the creation of a Latino opportunity district. The usual suspects got involved from there to assist the city in its appeal, but they lost every step of the way. As Texas Redistricting and the Constitutional Accountability Center wrote before SCOTUS announced its decision to not hear the appeal, no court has ever accepted the Project on Fair Representation’s argument, as the wording of the 14th Amendment – “equal representation for equal numbers of people” – is quite plain and has always been understood to include people who can’t vote, which at the time of the ratification of the 14th Amendment included women. SCOTUSBlog has more.

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4 Comments

  1. Mainstream says:

    Might be more accurate to call it “every other person, one vote”. The problem is that when you layer the requirements of the VRA to create ethnically based districts to empower minority populations over the real world fact that about half of Hispanics are not US citizens, and an even higher proportion of Asians living in Texas are not, you end up with districts on one side of town where half as many folks get to elect the same number of state reps or congressmen as another side of town where most folks are citizens. One of the political scientists even does an annual survey of which are the “cheapest” congressional seats, based on the number of voters needed to win. Our CD 29 sometimes rivals inner city Los Angeles for that “honor.”

    The legal theory to the contrary is that all the non-citizens, or prisoners, or youth or other non-voters still need “representation”, a chance to appeal to their elected official for changes to legislation, etc., even if they cannot vote to replace that representative.

  2. Mainstream says:

    Just for illustration, Gene Green got re-elected with 86,053 this past November, over two minor party candidates with 5,000 each, and 22,000 who skipped the contest.

    Across town James Cargas (D) got 85,553 in his losing contest with Congressman Culberson, who took in 142,793, and 14,000 other voters were cast or skipped the contest.

    So 240,000 voters in CD 7 get one congressman, and 110,000 across town select one congressman. Is that one person, one vote?

  3. Greg Wythe says:

    Unfortunately, by focusing on votes cast instead of CVAP, that last question suggests an alternative of more fluid redistricting based on who turns out on Election Day. Entertaining …. but impractical.

  4. Mainstream says:

    I don’t have the congressional data handy, but the results would be parallel.

    I do have state house CVAP handy, and it shows Sarah Davis’ overwhelmingly Anglo, and GOP leaning district has 124,155 citizens of voting age while Wu’s district with large Asian and Hispanic populations and Walle’s district (which also has the highest Hispanic CVAP in the county) show 62,380 citizens of voting age and 67,545 respectively.