One Person, One Vote No More?

So SCOTUS took up a case today that involves a principle so basic that few people who are not election lawyers saw it coming (I sure didn’t): a challenge to the right of states to use total population–as opposed to total voters (according to some estimation)–in making districting decisions. To put it another way, the plaintiffs in the case are attempting to replace the doctrine of “one person, one vote” with “one voter, one vote.”

The case arises in Texas, where the standard sought by the plaintiffs would increase the representation of areas with a disproportionate number of voting-eligible citizens (i.e., relatively few non-citizens and children). Adam Liptak of the New York Times summarizes the potential impact:

If the challengers succeed, the practical consequences would be enormous, Joseph R. Fishkin, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin wrote in 2012 in The Yale Law Journal.

It would, he said, “shift power markedly at every level, away from cities and neighborhoods with many immigrants and many children and toward the older, whiter, more exclusively native-born areas in which a higher proportion of the total population consists of eligible voters.”

Federal appeals courts have uniformly ruled that counting everyone is permissible, and one court has indicated that it is required.

In litigation going back to the early 1960s, when the “one person, one vote” principle was first implemented under SCOTUS’ direction, no federal court has previously held counting only voters (or voting-age people, or voting-eligible people) is required. So yeah, it would be a pretty big deal if that were to change..

We’ll have more about this as more info is available.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.