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Supreme Court Protects "One Person, One Vote" from Challenge

Supreme Court Protects "One Person, One Vote" from Challenge

Early this week, the Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision in the case Evenwel v. Abbott. On a vote of 8-0, the Court protected the principle of “one person, one vote” and ensured that millions of non-voters retain their right to be counted and represented in government.

Evenwel concerned a challenge brought against Texas’s method for drawing electoral districts. Texas, like most other states and localities, uses total population to redistrict every ten years. The appellants, who are Texas citizens, claimed that the total population plan led to wide variations in eligible voter population between electoral districts, causing some voters to wield considerably greater voting power than others. This, according to the appellants, was itself a violation of “one person, one vote.”

On the other side of the case, the State of Texas maintained that total population is one of a number of possible metrics for determining electoral districts in compliance with “one person, one vote.” While voter eligible population might also be acceptable, Texas claimed that it was not legally obligated to adopt that measure. The Obama administration supported Texas in the case, but argued differently that total population is the only constitutional way to draw districts.

The Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis joined an amici curiae brief with the Children’s Defense Fund calling on the Supreme Court to uphold Texas’s plan. The brief focused principally on the effect of switching to voter eligible population on children, who would no longer be counted when drawing electoral districts. In losing the right to representation in redistricting, children could find their political power diluted and their access to critical government resources restricted.

Ultimately, the Court sided with Texas and the U.S. government in a series of three separate, concurring decisions. Justice Ginsburg authored the six-justice majority decision, declaring that history, jurisprudence and practice all support the use of total population in drawing electoral districts. Justices Thomas and Alito wrote individually to identify issues with the majority’s argument, but they agreed generally that Texas was under no obligation to change its redistricting plan.

RAC Director Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner issued a statement on Monday afternoon lauding the Court’s decision to protect the status quo practice of total population redistricting and ensure that children, non-citizen immigrants and others continue to be counted. Rabbi Pesner noted that this ruling had special resonance for Jews, who are instructed: “Do not separate yourself from the community” (Pirke Avot 2:5).

Although a significant victory for “one person, one vote,” the Evenwel decision has not entirely closed the door on attempts to strip non-voters of the right to representation. We should remain vigilant to further efforts to undermine “one person, one vote” and change who counts in our democracy.

Adam Waters is a 2015-2016 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. He grew up in Coral Springs, FL, and was a member of Temple Beth Orr. Adam graduated from Brown University.

Adam Waters

Published: 4/06/2016