In Texas Case, Supreme Court Upholds One Person, One Vote

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Photo illustration by Todd Wiseman

In a unanimous decision released Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to uphold Texas’ current system for drawing legislative districts so that they are roughly equal in population.

The Supreme Court’s ruling is a victory for legislators — mostly Democrats — who represent districts with significant populations of people who are not eligible to vote: primarily children and non-U.S. citizens.

Last year, two Texas voters, Sue Evenwel of Mount Pleasant and Edward Pfenninger of Montgomery County north of Houston, brought a case to the Supreme Court arguing that Texas should divide its districts by the number of eligible voters, not by the total population. Evenwel and Pfenninger argued that the power of Pfenninger’s vote was comparatively diminished because he had a greater proportion of non-voters in his districts.

The court pointed out that the difference in population between the biggest and smallest state Senate districts in Texas was less than 10 percent, while the difference between the eligible voters in the biggest and smallest districts was 40 percent. Evenwel argued that the disparity is untenable.

The justices did not say it would be unconstitutional to base district sizes on eligible voter populations, but said overall population is clearly the standard: “Adopting voter-eligible apportionment as constitutional command would upset a well-functioning approach to districting that all 50 States and countless local jurisdictions have long followed,” they wrote. “As the Framers of the Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment comprehended, representatives serve all residents, not just those eligible to vote.”

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