The Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to decide whether the Constitution requires only eligible voters be counted when forming legislative districts, taking up a lawsuit that could shift political power to less populous rural areas from urban centers. If successful, the challenge to the state Senate map the Texas Legislature drew in 2013 could reshape the political dynamic in states with large Hispanic populations. The lawsuit offers the high court a chance to clarify the one-person, one-vote doctrine it established in the 1960s, when the justices swept away legislative maps that gave rural voters disproportionate power over urban areas. Since then, the near-universal practice has been to draw maps based on total population without regard to legal status. Subsequent electoral disputes centered on whether the racial composition of resulting districts complies with the Voting Rights Act.
The case raises “basic questions about ‘who is a democracy for’—citizens, residents, etc.—and the extent to which those philosophical questions under our Constitution are determined by the states themselves,” said Edward Foley, an Ohio State University election-law professor.
The lawsuit was advanced by Edward Blum, whose Austin-based Project on Fair Representation has been litigating for years to roll back affirmative action, Voting Rights Act enforcement and other policies intended to benefit minorities.
The group’s goal is to remove noncitizens and illegal immigrants from the legislative district count, but the Supreme Court has the option of considering whether other nonvoters should be excluded in calculating voting district sizes, such as minors, felons and even people who are eligible to vote but haven’t registered.