Cooper: 'One person, one vote' when it suits

Cooper: 'One person, one vote' when it suits

April 10th, 2016 by Clint Cooper in Opinion Free Press

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the unanimous majority in a recent Texas "one person, one vote" case but left open the possibility of other methods of state apportionment.

Photo by LAUREN VICTORIA BURK

The United States Supreme Court unanimously agreed to do nothing last week, and that could be a hopeful sign.

The high court ruled that states, as they have for more than 50 years, would continue to apportion legislative seats according to total population rather than to citizens or voters, turning back a lawsuit that wanted to change the practice.

But it did not close the door on other ways to apportion districts, leading to the possibility that the issue might be reconsidered if a state or states decided to change the way in which they did things.

As it stands today, and has stood since the 1964 Reynolds v. Sims Supreme Court decision, state houses in legislatures are apportioned by population — "one person, one vote" — and not by geographic differences (such as counties).

The Reynolds case, which came out of Jefferson County (Birmingham), Ala., sought to correct the disparity that the number of voters per Alabama state senator ranged widely from one district to another. In that case, urban counties were often drastically underrepresented.

In last week's case, the plaintiff out of Texas in Evenwel v. Abbott wanted to show that rural counties were now drastically underrepresented because of the influx into urban areas of illegal immigrants and children, who can't vote.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the court, said since no state had chosen to apportion its legislative districts other than "one person, one vote," "we need not and do not resolve" whether such practices would be constitutional.

Two justices, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, wrote separately from Ginsburg, Alito saying the use of total population in apportionment shouldn't be consider sacrosanct and would be debated "when we have before us a state districting plan." Thomas wrote that the use of total population, in fact, wasn't sacrosanct.

"The majority has failed to provide a sound basis for the one-person, one-vote principle because no such basis exists," he wrote. States should have "significant leeway in apportioning their own districts to equalize total population, to equalize eligible voters, or to promote any other principle consistent with a republican form of government."

Not surprisingly, there is a political component to the argument.

In Reynolds v. Sims, the "one person, one vote" decision favored urban-dwelling Democrats, especially blacks, who tend to vote as a bloc. And in recent years, the porous Southern border has allowed the influx of some 11 million illegal immigrants, swelling further the urban-dwelling population.

In the Texas case, on the other hand, a change to "one person, one vote" ruling would favor rural-dwelling voters, who are more apt to vote Republican.

Ginsburg, in upholding the current system (for now), said even those who can't vote "have an important stake in many policy debates — children, their parents, even their grandparents, for example, have a stake in a strong public-education system — and in receiving constituent services. Total population apportionment promotes equitable and effective representation."

With last week's decision and with a 2015 Supreme Court decision in which it threw out a lower court's ruling that upheld a Republican-drawn legislative map in Alabama, the high court has seemed interested in tilting the "one person, one vote" decision toward minorities.

In the Alabama case, for example, the GOP had drawn the state's redistricting plan with one eye focused hard on the Voting Rights Act and its insistence on protected districts for minorities. The result of such gerrymandering — approved by the Obama Justice Department — protected the minority districts in question, which overwhelmingly vote for Democrats, but left the surrounding voting districts with more whites, who usually vote for Republicans.

But the minorities in the affected districts didn't like the subsequent election results, which assured "their" seats but saw them get little other representation.

Justice Stephen Breyer, in writing for the court, said the GOP properly applied "one person, one vote" but did so to the exclusion of all other criteria. Using the example of a 70-percent majority black district, he suggested a redistricting plan that would back off the percentage to 65 percent.

With that type of vague suggestion and the knowledge that "one person, one vote" isn't deemed as important in one case as it is in another, it is difficult for Republican-apportioning states to know just exactly what will please the court.

As the late Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in his dissent of the Alabama case, the majority opinion was "a sweeping holding that will have profound implications for the constitutional ideal of one person, one vote, for the future of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and for the primacy of the state in managing its own elections."

Fortunately, in last week's case, the court didn't attempt to reshape all apportionment rules, which provides hope that a fairness between "one person, one vote" and a state's eligible voters might one day be worked out.

Getting Started/Comments Policy

Getting started

  1. 1. If you frequently comment on news websites then you may already have a Disqus account. If so, click the "Login" button at the top right of the comment widget and choose whether you'd rather log in with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a Disqus account.
  2. 2. If you've forgotten your password, Disqus will email you a link that will allow you to create a new one. Easy!
  3. 3. If you're not a member yet, Disqus will go ahead and register you. It's seamless and takes about 10 seconds.
  4. 4. To register, either go through the login process or just click in the box that says "join the discussion," type your comment, and either choose a social media platform to log you in or create a Disqus account with your email address.
  5. 5. If you use Twitter, Facebook or Google to log in, you will need to stay logged into that platform in order to comment. If you create a Disqus account instead, you'll need to remember your Disqus password. Either way, you can change your display name if you'd rather not show off your real name.
  6. 6. Don't be a huge jerk or do anything illegal, and you'll be fine.

Chattanooga Times Free Press Comments Policy

The Chattanooga Times Free Press web sites include interactive areas in which users can express opinions and share ideas and information. We cannot and do not monitor all of the material submitted to the website. Additionally, we do not control, and are not responsible for, content submitted by users. By using the web sites, you may be exposed to content that you may find offensive, indecent, inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise objectionable. You agree that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of the Times Free Press web sites and any content on the Times Free Press web sites, including, but not limited to, whether you should rely on such content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you acknowledge that we shall have the right (but not the obligation) to review any content that you have submitted to the Times Free Press, and to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content that we determine, in our sole discretion, (a) does not comply with the terms and conditions of this agreement; (b) might violate any law, infringe upon the rights of third parties, or subject us to liability for any reason; or (c) might adversely affect our public image, reputation or goodwill. Moreover, we reserve the right to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content at any time, for the reasons set forth above, for any other reason, or for no reason. If you believe that any content on any of the Times Free Press websites infringes upon any copyrights that you own, please contact us pursuant to the procedures outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Title 17 U.S.C. § 512) at the following address:

Copyright Agent
The Chattanooga Times Free Press
400 East 11th Street
Chattanooga, TN 37403
Phone: 423-757-6315
Email: webeditor@timesfreepress.com


Loading...