The Supreme Court this term could change how states meet the basic democratic goal of “one person, one vote.” Ironically, a victory for the conservative plaintiffs who brought the case may turn on a national survey that Republicans have tried to eliminate. In the Supreme Court case of Evenwel v. Abbott, the plaintiffs argue that the votes of eligible voters — like themselves — are unconstitutionally diluted because Texas counts non-voters when drawing its legislative districts. Specifically, Texas uses “total population” data, which include such non-voters as children, inmates, former felons who haven’t had their voting rights restored and non-citizen immigrants. The plaintiffs, backed by the activist nonprofit Project on Fair Representation, want the Supreme Court to rule that states must draw their legislative districts based instead on the number of voting-age citizens or registered voters. The likely outcome of that ruling would be to shift power away from cities — which tend to have more children, non-citizen immigrants and Democrats — and toward rural and suburban areas — which skew older, whiter, richer and Republican.
The Supreme Court itself has never specifically addressed whether state legislative districts should have roughly the same number of people or the same number of eligible voters. The 14th Amendment to the Constitution says that the Census must count “the whole number of persons in each State” every 10 years for the purpose of apportioning seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. But it does not explicitly cover state legislative districts. As The New York Times noted, other federal courts have repeatedly ruled that using total population to draw state legislative districts is acceptable.
Texas is not an outlier in doing this: Almost every state currently uses total population numbers drawn from the U.S. Census. So a ruling in favor of the Evenwel plaintiffs could radically upend how state legislators are chosen and people are represented across the country.
This is where the American Community Survey comes into the picture. The U.S. Census, which surveys every household in the United States every 10 years, does not ask recipients about their citizenship status. The American Community Survey, which is also conducted by the Census Bureau, is sent annually to a random sample of 2.5 percent of U.S. households. It does inquire about citizenship.
Full Article: This Supreme Court Case Could Upend The Way Democracy Works.