Taryn Phaneuf Apr. 7, 2016, 12:10pm


AUSTIN — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton declared victory following the U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous decision that states may base election districts on the total population, rather than just eligible voters.

“We are pleased with the unanimous decision of the Court,” Paxton said in a statement. “My office is committed to defending the Constitution and ensuring the state legislature, representing the citizens, continues to have the freedom to ensure voting rights consistent with the Constitution.”

In Evenwel v. Abbott, a group of Texas citizens sued the state to halt the use of state voter district map based on total population, alleging that this method “dilutes their votes,” according to court documents. The plaintiffs, who live in Senate districts with a large number of eligible and registered voters, argued that it would be more fair to base state voting districts on the number of eligible voters.

The plaintiffs’ claimed that the unbalanced districts violate the “one person, one vote” principle. Districts with large numbers of ineligible voters — think children, non-citizens and convicted felons — have an advantage because fewer voters have the same influence as districts with more voters. In its 8-0 decision, the Supreme Court disagreed.

“We hold, based on constitutional history, this Court’s decisions, and longstanding practice, that a state may draw its legislative districts based on total population,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in the opinion. “Nonvoters have an important stake in many policy debates — children, their parents, even their grandparents, for example, have a stake in a strong public-education system. ... 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.”

However, the court didn’t say that states couldn’t base base voter districts on voter population, as the plaintiffs wanted, leaving the question open for further debate and potential future appearances in court. In a concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that he agreed with the majority — states may base districts on total population — but he went on to say that states aren’t limited to assigning districts in only one way.

“The Constitution does not prescribe any one basis for apportionment within states,” Justice Thomas wrote. “It instead leaves states significant leeway in apportioning their own districts to equalize total population, to equalize eligible voters or to promote any other principle consistent with a republican form of government. The majority should recognize the futility of choosing only one of these options. The Constitution leaves the choice to the people alone— not to this Court.”

The decision is seen as a victory for Democrats, who often win elections in populated urban areas where there are larger non-voting populations, according to reports.

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