Redistricting & Equal Protection

Today, before taking the next to last recess of the term, the Supreme Court handed down its opinion in Evanwel vs. Abbott.  This case involved an attempt by some Texas Republicans to challenge the use of total population in redistricting.  Instead, the petitioners wanted the Supreme Court to hold that the Equal Protection Clause required states to use some measure of voting population (a measure that would presumably exclude children, non-citizens, and those ineligible to vote for some other reason).

All eight justices rejected this attempt to change the law, but the three opinions in this case were vastly different.  Six justices — in an opinion written by Justice Ginsburg — held that total population was a permissible measure while suggesting that other measures were, at the very least, questionable.  Justice Alito (joined in part by Justice Thomas) while acknowledging that a state could choose to use total population questioned any suggestion that total population was a legally preferred measurement.  Finally, Justice Thomas (writing only for himself) questioned the last fifty years of case law holding that courts had any right to require states to draw districts in roughly equal size in the absence of evidence of discriminatory intent.

The positive side from this opinion is that the attempt of Texas Republicans to exclude large segments of the minority community from counting in the drawing of district lines failed.  The negative side is that there were not five justices to say that the alternative measures proposed by Republicans were not constitutionally permissible.  It is almost certain that some Republicans around the country will attempt to amend state laws to allow them to use these alternative measures.  Hopefully, by that time, we will have a majority on the Supreme Court willing to enforce all of the provisions of the Voting Rights Act and to look behind this facially race-neutral proposal to see the actual discriminatory intent.

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