Decades after the Supreme Court set “one person, one vote” as the standard states must meet in creating legislative districts that equitably distribute political power, the justices agreed Tuesday to decide exactly which persons should count. The court, in accepting a Texas case brought by a conservative advocacy group, will consider whether states and localities may continue to use a place’s total population as the basis or must make redistricting decisions based on the number of citizens who are eligible to vote. A shift from using total population would have an enormous impact in states with large immigrant populations because of the greater numbers of children and noncitizens. It would most likely transfer power from urban areas to more rural districts. The court will schedule the case for the new term that begins in October.
In 1964, the Supreme Court ruled that states must draw electoral districts based on population so that political power is equally shared. The justices did not specify the method states should use, but lower courts have never found that any state violated the Constitution by using the total population.
“Plaintiffs cite no case in which a court has accepted their claim that the Constitution compels states to apportion their legislative districts based on voter population as opposed to or in addition to total population,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) wrote in trying to dissuade justices from accepting the case. “And multiple precedents from this court confirm that total population is a permissible apportionment base under the Equal Protection Clause.”