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Oral arguments in “one man, one vote” case today

High stakes, indeed.

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Tuesday in a case that could have far-reaching implications for the way legislative districts in Texas — and across the country — are drawn. A coalition of Texas legislators, mostly Democrats, fears that if voters suing the state succeed, minority communities will have significantly reduced political power.

The case, Evenwel v. Abbott, centers around the legality of Texas’ current method for drawing the lines dividing state Senate districts. As it stands, Texas draws its districts so they are roughly equal in population. Even those who can’t vote — such as children, non-citizens and felons — get equal representation in the Senate.

The Texans suing the state, Sue Evenwel of Mount Pleasant and Edward Pfenninger of Montgomery County north of Houston, say this method leads to “gross malapportionment” of the value of their votes. Because there are a larger number of potential voters in Pfenninger’s district than there are in Evenwel’s district, Pfenninger says his ballot counts for less.

Dozens of state legislators, mostly Democrats, have signed on to briefs with the court defending the legality of Texas’ current policy — that all Texans, regardless of their eligibility to vote, should have equal representation. Among the briefs are one by the House of Representative’s Mexican American Legislative Caucus — a group of 41 state representatives, all but five of whom are Democrats — and the Texas Senate Hispanic Caucus, made up of 11 Democratic senators. Those same 11 senators filed another brief presenting further arguments in the state’s favor.

“This case represents a direct attack on our constituents,” said Sen. José R. Rodríguez, D-El Paso, who chairs the Senate Hispanic Caucus. “The implications could not be larger for minority voting rights and for Texas as a whole.”

See here for some background, and here for some historical perspective. SCOTUS had previously declined to hear a similar case from Texas brought by the same crowd. It’s unclear why they took this one up, but courts have consistently turned back such challenges in the past, as did the Fifth Circuit in this case.

Note that in this case, the defendant is the state of Texas, so that puts Abbott and Paxton on the same side as MALC and the Senate Hispanic Caucus. However, that doesn’t mean they are on the same page in defending against this lawsuit.

Texas officials are defending their map, but with a catch. They say the Constitution gives options to state and local governments, letting them decide to equalize districts based either on total population or those eligible to vote.

“The equal protection clause does not compel a state to choose a particular population base when reapportioning,” the state argued.

The Obama administration is urging a more limited ruling. U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli says the court should uphold the Texas map and its use of total population, without suggesting that officials might have other options.

Those advocating for total population say any other measure would be fraught with practical problems. States can rely on the once-a-decade U.S. Census to map total population, but no comparable data exists to allow the use of eligible voters, according to a brief filed by Nathaniel Persily, a Stanford Law School professor who specializes in election law.

A brief on the other side argues that map-makers can reliably use a separate survey, conducted by the Census Bureau based on statistical samples, that provides estimates of the citizen voting-age population. That brief was filed by demographers led by Peter Morrison, founding director of the RAND Corp.’s Population Research Center.

Of course, Congressional Republicans have been fiercely opposed to using statistical sampling by the Census Bureau in conducting its decennial survey, so this bed is just packed full of strangers. We’ll see how it goes. ThinkProgress, Trail Blazers, TNR, Michael Li, Rick Hasen, and Richard Pildes have more.

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  1. Joel says:

    wow, these people would rather draw district lines based on made up numbers than just give hispanics the full vote?

    how do they live with themselves?

  2. Mainstream says:

    Joel, nobody is denying Hispanic CITIZENS a “full” vote. In fact, Hispanic citizens is Houston basically get twice the voting power of “Anglo” (non-Hispanic white) or black voters, already.

    An easy illustration of this point is to look at how many voters participated in the recent city of Houston election by district, and the predominant racial group in each:

    A, 20097, majority white with strong Hispanic presence
    B, 22440, majority black
    C, 47188, majority Anglo
    D, 28388, majority black
    E, 33600, majority Anglo
    F, 12746, plurality Hispanic
    G, 40856, majority Anglo
    H, 17445, majority Hispanic
    I, 14692, majority Hispanic
    J, 8743, majority Hispanic
    K, 22677, plurality black

    So the 41000 mostly Hispanic voters in districts H, I and J got to elect 3 members to Houston city council, while the equivalent number of mostly white/Anglo voters in Districts G and C only got to elect one member to council.

    So who is being denied a “full” vote???

  3. Manuel Barrera says:

    Mainstream, there may be two elected Hispanics after the run-off in H and I. I think Karla will will so that will leave one Latino, Karla is married to a Latino, she is still white. There is one Latino running for at large, I doubt he will make it. One can create districts where Latinos can win, but our elected officials have not really done that, have they. The state Republican leadership has done a better job of creating districts where Latinos can win then our Democrats friends in the City have done in creating winnable Latino districts.

    Besides Mainstream you miss the point on the lawsuit pending in the Supreme Court. They are looking at either voters or registered voters to determine the drawing of districts. The state of Texas is defending the way they do it now, that being by population the same as we do for the congress.

    Ask yourself why is Texas defending the method they use?

  4. Manuel Barrera says:

    run-off in H, Karla will win, corrections

  5. […] here for the background. Here’s the Trib‘s […]