Supreme Court To Review 'One Person, One Vote'

| by Will Hagle
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The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a Texas case challenging the “one person, one vote” principle that dictates the distribution of Congressional districts.

The principle has remained unchanged since Reynolds v. Sims in 1964, in which the Supreme Court ruled state legislature districts needed to be equal in population. The idea was to ensure that every individual — regardless of the area of residence — had as close to equal voting power as possible. Prior to this ruling, many districts had disproportionate populations but were still represented by the same amount of legislators.

Although the Texas case that will be heard by the Supreme Court relates to the “one person, one vote” principle, it’s more of a conservative attack on the nation’s immigration laws than anything else. The current interpretation of “one person, one vote” takes into account census data on the total population. According to the Los Angeles Times, that includes immigrants who are in the U.S. both legally and illegally. 

Edward Blum, the conservative activist pursuing this case, claims that only U.S. citizens who are eligible to vote should be counted in the drawing of districts. Blum is representing Sue Evenwel, chairwoman of Titus County’s branch of the Texas Republican Party. Evenwel lives in a Senate district with 533,010 eligible voters, and she claims that another Senate district in the state has just 372,000 eligible citizens. Blum and Evenwel are essentially alleging that census data are not adequate for the drawing of Congressional districts because the numbers don't accurately reflect the eligible voting population. 

The Supreme Court claimed it will be deciding whether states “deny voters an equal right” by counting populations as they currently do. The decision — which is not expected until next year — will have an interesting impact on immigrant rights in the country. Technically speaking, Blum and those bringing the case to the justices have a point. By counting immigrants and ineligible voters, representatives are not fairly distributed among the population that can legally elect them to office. It's not drastically different from the problem that led to the Reynolds v. Sims ruling 50 years ago. 

The reality, of course, is that immigrants both legal and illegal are still residing in the cities in which they were counted according to the official census. Whether or not they can participate in the electoral process, the representatives from Washington will be making laws that affect their daily lives. If the court rules in Blum and Evenwel’s favor, children and prisoners could also be affected along with immigrants. Also, redrawing districts according to the amount of eligible citizens would be a time-consuming, almost unrealistic process. 

Blum has used a flimsy argument in support of his case. “My interest is in restoring the original principles of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s,” Blum said, according to the Bradenton Herald. “Your race and ethnicity should not be used to help or harm your position in life.” Ironically, University of Texas at Austin law professor Joseph R. Fishkin has claimed a ruling in Blum’s favor would have the opposite effect. According to the New York Times, Fishkin claims the ruling would “shift power markedly at every level, away from cities and neighborhoods with many immigrants and many children and toward the older, whiter, more exclusively native-born areas in which a higher proportion of the total population consists of eligible voters.” 

Although using census data regarding the total population has been the status quo for roughly 50 years, the Supreme Court has an intriguing case to consider. Either the rights of all those residing in the U.S. will be upheld, or the Court will rule that eligible voters are those who truly hold the power in government. Unfortunately, the ruling will have little effect on whether those elected to represent the population will actually act according to their interests. 

Sources: The Los Angeles Times, The Bradenton Herald, The New York Times / Image Source: WikiCommons