Over the past year, The New York Times Magazine has chronicled the long campaign that led to the Supreme Court’s 2013 nullification of the Voting Rights Act’s most powerful provision — its Section 5 — and the consequences that decision has had for minority voters. As I’ve written in our Disenfranchised series, the gutting of Section 5 facilitated an onslaught of restrictive new laws that made voting disproportionately harder for minorities across the country, marking the biggest setback to minority voting rights in the half-century since President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court heard a new case, Evenwel v. Abbott, that could also have a significant effect on minority political power — specifically, Hispanic voting power. Evenwel stems from a case first instigated in Texas by the same conservative group — the Project on Fair Representation — that helped bring about the decision gutting Section 5 in 2013. Like all of these big election cases, the issues involved are complicated, which may explain why Evenwel has drawn less media attention than it deserves; it does not reduce easily into sound bites. But the Court’s decision in Evenwel could be among the most important developments in politics in 2016, and well beyond. This series would not be complete for 2015 without a review of the case. My colleague Emily Bazelon and I have done our best to break it down as simply as possible, trading off segments to explain the main legal questions at play, the potential consequences and the likely outcomes. A decision is expected by June of 2016.
One person, one vote. It’s the rare Supreme Court rule that has the clarity of a slogan. More than 50 years ago, in 1964, the Supreme Court declared that the principle of “one person, one vote,” rooted in the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of equal protection under the law, required states to draw their legislative districts so that seats are “apportioned on a population basis.” (The rule of one person, one vote also holds for Congressional districts, but that’s based on a different source in the Constitution — Article I, plus Section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment. So Evenwel v. Abbott isn’t about Congressional elections.)
“Apportioned on a population basis” seems clear, too: Population means every person. Babies, nonagenarians, and everyone in between. If your state senate district has 500,000 people in it, then mine should too, more or less — though in reality, the court has since allowed for deviations within a margin of 10 percent.
I sound like I’m sure about this civics lesson, but this clarity could be illusory. In that 1964 ruling, Reynolds v. Sims, the Supreme Court also talked in terms of safeguarding an individual’s vote “when compared with votes of citizens living in other parts of the state.” That makes it sounds as though the court’s main concern, as Judge Alex Kozinski pointed out in 1991, is “making sure that each voter gets one vote” — not that each person gets representation.
Full Article: The Next Big Voting-Rights Fight – The New York Times.