Supreme Court Rejects Redistricting Challenge that Would Have Disenfranchised Latinos

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 4, 2016

Contact: John Garcia, Director of Communications, 212-739-7513, 917-673-9095 or jgarcia@latinojustice.org

The Supreme Court of the United States unanimously upheld a Texas law that counts all citizens, not just eligible voters, in drawing voting districts. In Evenwel v. Abbott the court found that a state or locality is allowed to draw its legislative districts based on total population alone.

The case was brought last year by two Texans, who argued that districts should be divided by the number of eligible voters. They argued the current system gave cities and urban areas with youth and immigrant populations that cannot vote oversized political clout.

If the court had granted the appeal, it would have upset a long-settled and effective approach to districting that all 50 States and countless local jurisdictions have long followed, and would have resulted in a lack of representation for millions of people. Such a result would disproportionately exclude people of color, immigrants, people with disabilities and youth from the groups of people who "count" in state-based legislative apportionment and redistricting.

More than 55 percent of the total Latina/o population could have been excluded from access to state legislative representation in the United States.

“The unanimous ruling and decision authored by Justice Ginsburg underscores the importance not only of constitutional precedent and settled practice, but harkens back to what the Framers of both the Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment understood: equitable and effective representation means that our elected representatives should serve all people in their constituency – not just those who may be ‘eligible’ to vote.”

“In reaching today’s decision and upholding the constitutionality of total population in redistricting, the Court understood clearly that it could not support the creation of a caste system of American politics where only the few speak for the many, and that, as a nation, we cannot allow that to happen," said Juan Cartagena, President and General Counsel for LatinoJustice PRLDEF.

LatinoJustice PRLDEF together with The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and more than 100 other groups filed an amicus “friend of the court” in Evenwel v. Abbott, a case which challenged the Fourteenth Amendment’s “one person, one vote” principle that legislative districts should be based on the total number of people who live within them. The Evenwel appellants sought to require Texas to redraw its State Senate maps by solely using voter-eligible population.

The High Court’s ruling today affirms a three-judge Federal District Court decision, which had dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim on which relief could be granted.

The eight-justice court unanimously rebuffed the challenge spearheaded by a conservative legal group that sought to shift influence in state and local legislative races away from urban areas that tend to be racially diverse to rural ones predominantly with white voters who often back conservative representatives. The court noted that “Constitutional history shows that, at the time of the founding, the Framers endorsed allocating House seats to States based on total population.” The Court observed that, when debating the Fourteenth Amendment, Congress rejected proposals to allocate House seats to States on the basis of voter population, which Congress found to be inconsistent with the “theory of the Constitution,” noting that the Framers recognized that the use of total-population as a baseline served the principle of representational equality.

“As the Supreme Court affirmed today, our elected officials in each state make laws and decisions that impact the total population in each state,” said Joanna Cuevas Ingram, Associate Counsel for LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “If the Supreme Court had ruled otherwise, it would have allowed the states to risk running afoul of the equal protection guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment, potentially excluding large numbers of communities of color--and large numbers of total state population--from legislative representation.”

The Fourteenth Amendment does not allow for the creation of second-class citizens. The Court’s rejection of the Evenwel appellants’ proposals affirmed that everyone counts, and that this principle is fundamental to our work of becoming a more just and inclusive society. Given today’s ruling, such a disastrous blow to our democratic ideals may not be as imminent, but we cannot rest on our laurels. LatinoJustice PRLDEF, historically disenfranchised communities and our allies must remain vigilant to prevent exclusion and discrimination in the states.”

The brief filed by LatinoJustice PRLDEF and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights examined the potential discriminatory effect that the Evenwel appellants' proposals would have on communities of color, youth, immigrant communities, people with disabilities and other underrepresented people. LatinoJustice conducted in-depth statistical research and analysis of 2013 U.S. Census American Community Survey demographic data, which revealed the potentially discriminatory impact that the widespread use of citizen voting age population in state legislative apportionment could have on Latina/o communities and communities of color. Since registration rates, age, naturalization status, and language proficiency vary dramatically among racial and ethnic groups, immigrants and low-income people, a ruling in favor of the challengers would have forfeited the right of millions of people, including an estimated 55 percent of the entire Latina/o population in the U.S., to be represented in our political system at all.

LatinoJustice’s amicus brief was brief was written in collaboration with The Leadership Conference, Advancement Project, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), the National Immigration Law Center and the NALEO Educational Fund, and was joined by a broad range of civil and human rights groups including the NAACP, the National Urban League, the League of Women Voters and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. The law firm of Goodwin Proctor LLP served as counsel of record for the brief.

Click here to download a copy of the decision and here for a PDF of the brief.

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