In this May 30, 2013 file photo, Texas state Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa looks at maps on display prior to a Senate Redistricting committee hearing, in Austin, Texas. The U.S. Supreme Court handed Texas a victory Monday, April 4, 2016, upholding the state’s system of drawing legislative voting districts based on everyone who lives there, not just registered voters.
Three scholars scrutinize Evenwel v. Abbott, a Supreme Court ruling with broad implications for both the future of voting rights and the direction of the Court.
In its Evenwel v. Abbott ruling this month, the Supreme Court rejected a conservative voting-rights challenge that could have triggered partisan redistricting fights nationwide. Advocates of “one person, one vote” cheered, but the ruling may invite further challenges, and spotlights problematic originalist impulses on the Court. Carl Klarner and Daniel Smith examine Evenwel’s legal impact, and Scott Lemieux tackles what Justice Clarence Thomas’s originalism means for the ruling and for the Court.
After the Supreme Court’s politically consequential decision in Evenwel v. Abbott this month, supporters of the principle of “one-person, one vote” breathed a sigh of relief. The Court unanimously ruled that states may continue to draw legislative districts based on total population, instead of on a new standard—the number of registered or eligible voters—that would have excluded non-citizen immigrants, youth under 18, people who are or were incarcerated, and anyone else not registered to vote.
The ruling stymied a challenge brought by conservative activists in Texas who set out to upend the practice of apportioning legislative districts based on population, which had been settled law for five decades. A ruling in the challengers’ favor could have triggered mass redrawing of legislative district lines around the country, most likely to the advantage of Republicans.
The decision did mark a victory for the principle of “one-person, one-vote” if only because it maintains the status quo. But the Evenwel decision will likely not be the final word on the matter. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s majority opinion explicitly stated that the Court did not “resolve whether, as Texas now argues, states may draw districts to equalize voter-eligible population rather than total population.” And conservatives can be expected to keep pushing for ways to exclude certain blocs of voters from the redistricting process—particularly non-citizens.