WASHINGTON, D.C.–Today, the Supreme Court of the United States issued an 8-0 decision in the case Evenwel, et al., v. Abbott, upholding the drawing of states’ legislative districts on the basis of total population as meeting the constitutional Equal Protection standard of “one person, one vote.”
Plaintiffs, Texas voters, had challenged the Texas districting as violating their own equal protection rights, claiming that the proper constitutional standard for drawing districts was voting-eligible population. Justice Ginsburg, writing for the Court, rejected plaintiffs’ approach as contrary to the Constitution, settled Court precedent, and long-standing practice. Portions of the Court’s opinion included arguments made by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee) in its amicus curiae brief.
“We applaud the Supreme Court for unanimously upholding one of the most basic principles in American democracy – that every person counts when it comes to ensuring fair and equal representation in the redistricting process,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “With this ruling, jurisdictions will and must continue to redraw district boundaries in an inclusive manner while adhering to the fundamental principle of one person, one vote. Today’s decision renders null and void efforts to marginalize minority communities from having an equal seat at the table in our political process.”
The Court reviewed the history of how the Founders answered the question of how congressional districts should be allocated, emphasizing that their decision to use total population as the standard was further ratified when the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted in 1865. The Court also stated that virtually every “one person-one vote” case had assumed total population as the appropriate metric, and that none had indicated that the use of voting population in its stead was constitutional. Then, noting the pervasive use of the total population standard by every state in the Union, the Court said that changing the standard “would upset a well-functioning approach to districting that all 50 states and countless local jurisdictions have followed for decades, even centuries.” The Lawyers’ Committee had pressed this last point in its brief.
“A unanimous Supreme Court correctly decided that the apportionment standard used by almost all states and localities for the last 50 years — total population – is constitutional,” stated Jon Greenbaum, chief counsel of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “This decision gives governments the assurance that they can continue to do what has worked.”
The Court explained that it made sense for total population to be the proper standard because all non-voters have an “important stake” in state policy, including children in public education policy and those “receiving constituent services such as navigating public benefits bureaucracies.” Thus, the total population standard, the Court wrote, “promotes equitable and effective representation.” The Court expressly declined to decide, as requested by Texas, whether a state may use voting-eligible population as a standard for allocating districts.
The Lawyers’ Committee’s amicus curiae brief was drafted by Kristen Clarke, Jon Greenbaum, Ezra Rosenberg, Bob Kengle and Dorian Spence of the Lawyers’ Committee and Eric Brunstad, Linda Goldstein, Rachel Swartz, Cari Stonebraker, and Cara Schmidt of Dechert LLP.
About the Lawyers’ Committee
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. Formed over 50 years ago, we continue our quest of “Moving America Toward Justice.” The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice under law, particularly in the areas of fair housing and community development; employment; voting; education; environmental justice; and criminal justice. For more information about the Lawyers’ Committee, visit www.lawyerscommittee.org