José Felipé Anderson
Just when you thought that the turmoil of recent Supreme Court controversies would make us feel that the court may not protect our most precious rights, we get a welcomed judicial ruling. A unanimous court affirmed the principle of one person one vote earlier this week in Evenwal v. Abbott, a Texas case where litigants sought relief that would dilute the power of minority groups in elections.
Even as we ponder whether President Barack Obama will get another appointment to the high court to fill a vacancy left by the unexpected death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the court has spoken with great clarity about the right of citizens to properly be counted in the election process. While many scholars ponder the possible consequences of a court divided into four liberals and four conservatives, the justices provided a well-timed civics lesson. In an opinion written by Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the court unanimously turned back a legal challenge to “one person, one vote”, ruling that states may rely on total population when drawing their legislative districts.
This is not new territory for the Supreme Court. It first forced states to draw their legislative districts with roughly equal populations inside them in two landmark decisions during the Warren court era: Baker v. Carr in 1962 and Reynolds v. Sims in 1964. The two decisions enshrined the “one-person, one-vote” rule in American constitutional law.
Like the unanimous opinion in Brown v. Board of Education, when the court speaks with one voice on an important principle, it identifies it as almost sacred.
It is refreshing to know that this core value of the constitution is still remembered by those who wear the robes of justice.
Jose is a Professor of Law at the University of Baltimore School of Law.