Does the Constitution guarantee one person, one vote? Or is it one citizen, one vote? This deceptively simple question is actually profound — and the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide it in the term that will begin in October. The answer will define the nature of American democracy for generations to come. The legal nature of the question can be stated simply. In the 1961 case Reynolds v. Sims, the Supreme Court announced a principle that was then referred to as “one man, one vote.” Until then it had been up to state legislatures to allocate congressional districts according to whatever principle they wanted. There was no requirement that districts have roughly equal numbers of residents, which meant that some districts might have many fewer residents and voters than others. The court said this imbalance violated equal protection of laws because it diluted the votes of those who lived in relatively overpopulated districts.
When the court in Reynolds announced this brand-new constitutional right, the language of its opinion — and of some subsequent opinions — strongly hinted that the goal was for equal numbers of voters to vote for equal numbers of representatives. Yet in the 54 years since the Reynolds decision, the court has assiduously avoided explicitly stating whether districts must have the same number of people or the same number of citizens.
So long as most residents of a given state were also citizens, the court’s unwillingness to answer this question didn’t much matter. True, citizens younger than 18 can’t vote, and some states disenfranchise felons, so very disproportionate numbers of children or convicts might’ve caused imbalance between districts.
Full Article: ‘One Man, One Vote’ Keeps Changing – Bloomberg View.