With the potential for a seismic shift in the political landscape of California and other states hanging in the balance, the U.S. Supreme Court this week takes on a case that will test the framework of the “one person, one vote” principle that has defined political boundaries for generations. The high court on Tuesday will hear arguments in a case out of Texas that threatens to upend the way states draw their political districts based on census-driven overall population numbers — and which could alter political influence in states such as California, where mushrooming Latino populations in urban areas, including illegal immigrants and other noncitizens, play a key part in shaping political maps. Conservative groups have challenged the “one person, one vote” premise based on a simple argument that counting overall population, including those ineligible to vote, unfairly diminishes the power of citizens who are eligible to vote. They have urged the Supreme Court to invalidate the current system, which would force states to completely redraw local and state political districts using different factors and perhaps open the door to eventually reconfiguring congressional districts.
Experts say the Supreme Court is unlikely to back such a dramatic overhaul, but are equally clear that a ruling overturning Texas’ system would trigger a radical political change nationwide, likely shifting more political power in some states from urban centers to rural areas.
“If the court sides with Texas and keeps the status quo, it’s no big deal,” said Rick Hasen, a UC Irvine law professor and leading expert on election law. “But it would be a huge deal if the court goes the other way.”
The backdrop of this legal showdown is the increasingly supercharged political tug-of-war between Republicans and Democrats over voting regulations, from the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling gutting key provisions of the Voting Rights Act to efforts in many red states to enact Voter ID laws that critics say target minority voters inclined to vote Democratic.