Tuesday, September 26, 2023
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Supreme Court Upholds Texas Redistricting by Total Population

WASHINGTON (CN) - Texas voters failed to sway the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday that the state improperly drew legislative districts based on total population, instead of voter-eligible population.

Sue Evenwel and Edward Pfenninger brought the underlying challenge because a total-population calculation put them into districts with a relatively large percentage of eligible voters.

While Evenwel resides in sparsely populated Titus County, near the Arkansas and Louisiana border, Pfenninger resides in Montgomery County, less than an hour north of Houston.

Texas adopted the disputed map, Plan S172, in 2013 after a panel of federal judges enjoined the version passed in 2011.

Unlike its predecessor, however, Plan S172 survived Evenwel and Pfenninger's challenge, and the Supreme Court forecast a victory for Texas as well at oral arguments last year.

The decision for the state was unanimous today, noting that "little controversy has centered on the population base jurisdictions must equalize."

"Today, all states use total population numbers from the census when designing congressional and state-legislative districts, and only seven states adjust those census numbers in any meaningful way," according to the lead opinion by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The voters had said total-population lines diluted the strength of their votes, as compared with voters in other districts, but the Supreme Court saw no violation of the equal protection clause.

"As history, precedent, and practice demonstrate, it is plainly permissible for jurisdictions to measure equalization by the total population of state and local legislative districts," Ginsburg wrote.

An alternate finding "would upset a well-functioning approach to districting that all 50 States and countless local jurisdictions have followed for decades, even centuries," Ginsburg added.

The decision notes that leaving nonvoters out of redistricting calculations also ignores the important stake they play in various policy debates.

"Children, their parents, even their grandparents, for example, have a stake in a strong public-education system - and in receiving constituent services, such as help navigating public-benefits bureaucracies," Ginsburg wrote. "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."

Chief Justice Roberts joined the lead opinion in full, as did Justices Anthony Kennedy, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

Justice Clarence Thomas concurred in the judgment and joined most of an opinion concurring in judgment by Justice Samuel Alito.

Thomas' opinion slams the majority for continuing to reinforce the one-person, one-vote principle without providing a sound basis for doing so.

"The court's attempt to impose its political theory upon the states has produced a morass of problems," Thomas wrote. "These problems are antithetical to the values that the Framers embraced in the Constitution. These problems confirm that the Court has been wrong to entangle itself with the political process."

He added: "There is no single 'correct' method of apportioning state legislatures. And the Constitution did not make this court 'a centralized politburo appointed for life to dictate to the provinces the "correct" theories of democratic representation, [or] the "best" electoral systems for securing truly "representative' government."' Because the majority continues that misguided search, I concur only in the judgment."

Alito meanwhile said he "would hold only that Texas permissibly used total population in drawing the challenged legislative districts."

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