Civil Rights Groups File Supreme Court Brief Underscoring Equal Protection in “One Person, One Vote” Case

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WASHINGTON ––The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, together with LatinoJustice PRLDEF and five other civil rights groups, filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court case of Evenwel v. Abbott, which seeks to challenge the “one person, one vote” principle that legislative districts should be based on the total number of people who live within them. The Evenwel Appellants seek to narrow representation to something other than total population, which would result in a lack of representation for countless individuals, and which would disproportionately exclude people of color, immigrants, people with disabilities and youth from the groups of people who "count" in legislative redistricting.

The brief examines the potential discriminatory effect that Evenwel Appellants' proposals would have on communities of color, youth, immigrant communities, people with disabilities and other underrepresented people. 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 forfeit 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.

“A reversal of the lower court’s opinion in this case to exclude all persons except registered voters from the total population count under the ‘one-person, one-vote’ doctrine would be a perversion of American democracy. Coupled with the court’s misguided opinion in Citizens United that continues to allow money to dictate electoral results, the failure to reverse decades of discriminatory vote denial inherent in felon disfranchisement, and the unfairness of completely unnecessary voter ID laws, a reversal in Evenwel would create a caste system of American politics where only the few speak for the many. As a nation, we cannot allow that to happen," said Juan Cartagena, President and General Counsel for LatinoJustice PRLDEF.

Joanna Cuevas Ingram, Associate Counsel for LatinoJustice PRLDEF added, “Our elected officials in each state make laws and decisions that impact the total population in each state. If the Supreme Court were to follow the Evenwel Appellants' proposals, however, it would allow 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, and a decision allowing for such discriminatory exclusion would undermine over 50 years of progress towards a more just and inclusive society.”

Martha Pardo, Associate Counsel for LatinoJustice PRLDEF’s Southeast Regional Office also noted, “Latina/os and other communities of color who are eligible to vote already face significant barriers to registration. State legislative apportionment and redistricting based solely on the number of active registered voters actually imports existing institutional barriers to voter registration into the state redistricting process, further entrenching discriminatory outcomes by excluding even larger numbers of Latina/o and other diverse racial and ethnic groups.”

The brief was written by The Leadership Conference, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, 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.

Attorneys with the firm of Goodwin Proctor LLP served as counsel of record for the brief, and LatinoJustice PRLDEF 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.

Click here to download a PDF of the brief.

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