Today the Supreme Court handed down their opinion in Evenwel v. Abbott, a voting case out of Texas, which, in addition to being important on the merits, provides a fascinating walk through Constitutional history. Appellants had argued that Texas’ use of population as the basis for drawing district maps was unconstitutional, since they lived in a district with a higher voter to population ration and therefore their vote was “diluted” versus someone who lived in a district with a low voter to population ration.
The Court unanimously ruled (opinion by Ginsburg, concurrences by Thomas and Alito) that Texas was entitled to use population as a basis for its districts:
We hold, based on constitutional history, this Court’s decisions, and longstanding practice, that a State may draw its legislative districts based on total population.
Given that in 2010 the Texas district maps were thrown out because of their failure to meet the requirements of the Voting Rights Act (before Shelby County v. Holder [ET correct case name] gutted the VRA), and the maps were redrawn by the District Court, this matters.
But it’s not over, folks. The Court also observed
Because history, precedent, and practice suffice to reveal the infirmity of appellants’ claims, we need not and do not resolve whether, as Texas now argues, States may draw districts to equalize voter-eligible population rather than total population.
It’s Texas. The Voting Rights Act has been gutted. Legislators know on what side their election-night bread is buttered. I hope the ACLU is already gearing up for the inevitable challenge to whatever state legislative districts Texas has in the works for upcoming elections. Because it’s going to happen: I would bet good money — if anyone would take the bet, which is unlikely — that Texas is going to redraw district based on voter population rather than total population, if they have not done so already. (I am being lazy: I should look up what the current districts look like in Texas, but I’m not going to.) And not only Texas — every one of the states formerly covered by the VRA will move to voter-eligible population based districts.
Who will this affect? People in districts with large numbers of noncitizen immigrants, or minors, or inmates, or any other population the State deems ineligible to vote. (Keep in mind that in the states most likely to go to voter-eligible population based districts, people convicted of felonies are barred from voting for life. And that a disproportionally large number of convicted felons are black men.) This even though, as Ginsburg repeatedly points out in her opinion, everyone is affected by the law, not only those who can vote.
Remember how much I keep nagging people about the importance of state (and local) elections? This is why.
It’s also why this Presidential election has the potential to affect all of our lives for decades to come. Whoever fills the open Supreme Court seat can change the way the country is governed in the most fundamental ways, as the Court with Scalia on it did in trashing the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County. Those changes will last beyond our lifetimes.
So, wherever you live*,
*Especially if you live in Texas.