Tomorrow, the United States Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Evenwel vs Abbott, a case that threatens the democratic principle of ‘one person, one vote,’ that for decades has ensured that everyone in America, regardless of who they are or where they live, is entitled to equal representation. Evenwel could force states to leave out large segments of their populations when drawing legislative districts, simply because they are not voters, including children under 18 and legal permanent residents.
If Sue Evenwel, the Republican operative filing the suit along with her Tea Party colleagues has her way, a majority (55%) of Hispanics would be left out of our democracy for purposes of representation. The same holds true for one-third of Native Americans, 30% of African-Americans, and 45% of Asian Americans. On Friday, DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz wrote an op-ed in her hometown newspaper, the Sun Sentinel, outlining why this case is so important:
“Two years ago the Voting Rights Act was effectively gutted, and now, the same organization that led that legal attack is at it again. On Dec. 8, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Evenwel v. Abbott, a case that threatens political representation for some of our country’s most vulnerable — our nation’s children. When the plaintiff’s lawyers address the bench they will argue states must exclude large segments of their populations when drawing legislative districts simply because they cannot vote.
“Imagine what it would mean if we applied that kind of exclusion in other areas. What would it mean for school districts if school children weren’t counted for purposes of government funding? What if we pretended countless others were ignored when allocating transportation dollars for the maintenance of roads and bridges?
“No government can close its eyes to large portions of the people it is supposed to represent. No democracy can work if government officials aren’t accountable to the people in their districts, whether they vote or not.”
Here’s how the press is covering this unprecedented attempt at electoral gerrymandering:
THE ATLANTIC: Who Gets to Be Represented in Congress?
The plaintiffs in Evenwel v. Abbott [bring] the U.S. Supreme Court a problem and asks the Court to create more problems, with no solution in sight. They want the Court to completely upend the current system of drawing legislative districts—in a way that would give more power to conservative voters and candidates.
The implications of a win for Ms Evenwel and her co-appellant may have a similar effect. The districts in Texas with a smaller proportion of eligible voters are home to many racial minorities. The brief from the NAACP points out that a turn away from equality of representation “will fall most heavily on black residents, immigrants and other communities that already face historical and contemporary discrimination.” Black communities in the United States include “20 million people who are not ‘eligible voters’” comprising “13 million black children, nearly 5 million non-registered black voters, 2 million black non-citizens and 2 million black individuals with felony convictions.” Since minorities tend to vote for Democrats, reorienting influence toward districts with higher concentrations of white voters like those where Ms Evenwel and Pfenniger live could give Republicans an electoral boost. […] Nine unelected judges hold in their hands a fundamental question of American democracy that could alter the political terrain for decades to come.
Civil rights groups say that approach would be a blow to Hispanic communities, which tend to have both more children and more non-citizens than other areas. Seats in the Republican-controlled Texas Senate would shift toward older, whiter parts of the state and away from more diverse areas of Houston and Dallas as well as south and west Texas, according to a brief filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
NBC NEWS: ASIAN AMERICA: Supreme Court to Begin Hearing Arguments on Legislative Redistricting Case
A decision in favor of using the total number of eligible or registered voters to draw state legislative boundaries would likely be a boon to Republicans, who tend to live in areas with higher concentrations of voters, according to a May 26 Slate article written by elections-law expert Richard L. Hasen. This is especially true if such a ruling were ever extended to cover congressional districts. It would also benefit voters in rural instead of urban areas, where people ineligible to vote are more likely to live, Hasen wrote.
Walker, of the DNC, said using citizen voting age population would result in 45 percent of the Asian-American population and 30 percent of the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander population being excluded from the base used to draw up state legislative districts.
DES MOINES REGISTER: Editorial: Justices should reject efforts to redefine ‘person’
…this approach would be difficult, if not impossible, to implement. Counties maintain lists of registered voters, but no one counts eligible voters, which is a much different number. The U.S. Census Bureau provides the data now used by most states, but it counts people, not voters. The larger problem, however, is the effect that such a change would have on people who are ineligible to vote — such as children and tax-paying felons and non-citizens — but who still deserve representation. Not coincidentally, this change would also have the effect of diluting the political clout of urban, largely Democratic areas and increasing the power in rural areas dominated by white Republicans.
SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE: Editorial: Supreme Court to hear out crude power play of a case
[I]n the context of modern American politics, Evenwel vs. Abbot feels more like a crude power play to boost the strength of the Republican Party than anything else. We think the principle upheld in the 14th Amendment should prevail: All people in this nation deserve equal representation, not just citizens.
SACRAMENTO BEE: Court to decide principle of one person, one vote
But Evenwel does not merely raise an academic question about the meaning of representation; it is a case about which political party can gain the upper hand in states throughout the nation. If the high court rules that states are required to draw district lines based on the number of voters, not the number of people, it would have significant implications for who gains and loses political power. People who generally cannot vote include children, certain convicted felons and noncitizens.
TEXAS TRIBUNE: High Stakes for Democrats in Redistricting Case
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.”
In Evenwel, Blum’s team insists that the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires states to draw districts on the basis of the state’s voter population, not its total population. In other words, only a subset of the population is entitled to representation in state legislatures. Blum’s argument is that unnaturalized immigrants, children, and other who lack access to the ballot should not be counted for purposes of legislative representation, which would unquestionably result in a major shift in political power away from urban population centers toward the whiter, more rural areas of the state. No court in history has ever accepted Blum’s radical claim—which would wreak havoc with the redistricting process and require a new kind of U.S. census—but Blum hopes to make history in the Evenwel case.
TALKING POINTS MEMO: How Far Will The Supreme Court Go In The Big New Voting Rights Case?
If the Supreme Court agrees with the challengers wholeheartedly, the case is poised to upend not just Texas’ redistricting plan but could cause chaos in other areas where districts have a relatively high number of non-eligible voters, which include not just undocumented immigrants, but children, prisoners, and in some places ex-felons. The challenge is being treated by civil rights advocates as an attempt to undermine the growing political power of left-leaning minorities, while undermining the fundamental idea that representation should be based on the number of people a politician represents, rather than those eligible to vote for him.
The Evenwel case was orchestrated by Edward Blum, the director of the Project on Fair Representation, a nonprofit funded by secretive conservative donors. Blum recruited the plaintiffs, and his nonprofit is bankrolling the legal expenses. A former stockbroker who isn’t a lawyer himself, Blum has earned a reputation as a one-man legal crusader against civil rights and affirmative action laws. Two years ago, he helped to successfully orchestrate a legal challenge to the venerable Voting Rights Act, Shelby County v. Holder, which resulted in the Supreme Court gutting a critical section of the law designed to prevent discrimination in voting.