Supreme Court upholds 'one person, one vote'

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled Monday that a state or locality is allowed to draw its legislative districts based on total population alone.

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The court issued a unanimous decision in Evenwel v. Abbott, a case challenging the 2013 redistricting of 31 seats in the Texas Senate based solely on 2010 census population figures. [READ THE RULING BELOW.]

The ruling affirms the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal's decision, which sided with Texas. The state argued there was no legal basis for voters Sue Evenwel and Edward Pfenninger’s claims that the new election districts were unconstitutional, violating the “one person, one vote” principle of the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause, because the districts were not divided in a manner that equalized both total population and voter population.

“This Court’s past decisions reinforce the conclusion that States and localities may comply with the one-person, one-vote principle by designing districts with equal total populations,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in the majority opinion.

Ginsburg argued that requiring districts to be divided by voter-eligible population figures would upset what she called a “well-functioning approach to districting that all 50 states and countless jurisdictions have followed.”

“As the framers of the Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment comprehended, representatives serve all residents, not just those eligible to vote,” she said. “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.”

Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Samuel Alito filed their own concurring opinions.

Thomas said he decided to write a separate opinion because the court has never provided a sound basis for the one-person, one-vote principle.

“There is no single 'correct' method of apportioning state legislatures,” he wrote. “And the Constitution did not make this court ‘a centralized politburo appointed for life to dictate to the provinces the "correct" theories of democratic representation or the "best" electoral systems for securing truly "representative" government.' ”

Thomas said he concurred with the decisions only because the court’s majority has continued what he called “that misguided search” for the correct method of drawing voter districts.

While Alito agreed with the court that Texas’s use of total population did not violate the one-person, one-vote rule, he said the court should not have told states it’s not mandatory they use total population when drawing voter districts.

“Whether a state is permitted to use some measure other than total population is an important and sensitive question that we can consider if and when we have before us a state districting plan that, unlike the current Texas plan, uses something other than total population as the basis for equalizing the size of districts,” he said.

—This report was updated at 11:12 a.m.

Read Supreme Court ruling