Thursday, December 10, 2015

Supreme Court hears argument in case that could end 'one person, one vote' rule

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case that, if successful, would overturn the concept of "one person, one vote" and dramatically alter how congressional and legislative districts are drawn. The plaintiffs in Evenwel vs. Abbott are arguing that map-makers should only count eligible voters rather than all residents when crafting election districts, which would reduce the political power of areas with large concentrations of non-citizens, children, and prisoners. Naturally, this would undermine Democrats and bolster Republicans, so unsurprisingly, the court's conservative majority seemed to give the idea some real purchase.

Of course, we won't know how the justices actually feel until they issue a final ruling, which won't be for several months. Los Angeles Times reporter David Savage said that the court "seemed poised" to side with the plaintiffs, but election law expert Rick Hasen (also writing in the Timesconcluded that it "seems doubtful" the court would adopt the "eligible voter" standard, largely because we simply don't even know how many eligible voters there are in the country. (The Census doesn't collect this information, and other sources are fraught with problems.)

Hasen thinks such a move would cause "so much upheaval," but Savage noted that two justices (Anthony Kennedy and John Roberts) suggested that implementation of any new rules could wait until after the 2020 census. Relying on the Supreme Court to act sensibly seems like a risky bet, especially if the justices can convince themselves that delaying a few years would make a radical change in standards more palatable.

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