High Court Considers Arizona Redistricting Challenge

8 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Congressional Hispanic Caucus fears 55 percent of Latinos would be impacted if Texas loses ‘one person, one vote’ case.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments this morning in an important voting-rights case that the political world should probably be paying more attention to.

The court on Tuesday heard arguments in a voting rights case that has the potential to shift political power from urban areas to rural ones, a move that would provide a big boost to Republican voters in many parts of the nation. There’s a serious angle and a less-serious angle to this case, and I’m inclined start with the former. (The less-serious way, which we’ll get to in a minute, involves unicorns, so stick with me.) The case is Evenwel v. Abbott, which as The Nation’s Ari Berman explained the other day, is ultimately about the fundamental principle of “one person, one vote.” The New York Times’ Adam Liptak summarized this morning: What is clear is that the principle requires voting districts of very close to equal populations, but the court has never resolved what is the relevant population: Should voting districts have the same number of people, or the same number of eligible voters? But as President Obama has acknowledged, daughters like his — who have grown up with privilege — don’t need preferential consideration when applying to college. A coalition of Texas legislators, mostly Democrats, fears that if voters suing the state succeed, minority communities will have significantly reduced political power.

Berman’s piece, which explained the history extremely well, added, “The plaintiffs want legislative lines to be drawn based on eligible or registered voters instead of total population as measured by the US Census Bureau, thus not counting children, immigrants (documented and undocumented), prisoners, and other nonvoters.” Why is this distinction so important? The principle, rooted in cases from the 1960s that revolutionized democratic representation in the United States, applies to the entire U.S. political system aside from the Senate, where voters from states with small populations have vastly more voting power than those with large ones. The University of Texas at Austin’s legal defense is that it needs to admit “the African American or Hispanic child of successful professionals in Dallas” so as to dismantle stereotypes that all blacks and Latinos are poor. The difference matters, because people who are not eligible to vote — children, immigrants here legally who are not citizens, unauthorized immigrants, people disenfranchised for committing felonies, prisoners — are not spread evenly across the country. Because there are a larger number of potential voters in Pfenninger’s district than there are in Evenwel’s district, Pfenninger says his ballot counts for less.

Joaquin Castro, D- San Antonio, said the case puts many non-eligible voters at risk that deserve to be represented equally to voting district constituents. Non-eligible voters are mostly children, but also include legal permanent residents, foreign citizens and convicted felons. “This case, if the plaintiff is successful, would say to millions of Americans that you have no place in American democracy, that your voice doesn’t count at all,” Castro said. “Not only that, it would put that into law. These plaintiffs were reportedly recruited by Edward Blum, the director of the Project on Fair Representation, a non-profit group “funded by secretive conservative donors,” which has spearheaded the litigation.

Among the briefs are one by the House of Representative’s Mexican American Legislative Caucus — a group of 41 state representatives, all but five of whom are Democrats — and the Texas Senate Hispanic Caucus, made up of 11 Democratic senators. That is unacceptable.” Castro also fears the “eligible voter” requirement could be skewed and corrupted, like gerrymandering, allowing districts to manipulate who they deem eligible to mean registered voters or even more specific requirements. In response, the Texas Legislature enacted what’s called the “top 10% plan,” under which anyone graduating at the top of his or her high school class earned admission to any public university in Texas — including the flagship, UT Austin — irrespective of SAT or ACT scores. Those same 11 senators filed another brief presenting further arguments in the state’s favor. “This case represents a direct attack on our constituents,” said Sen.

Over time, the top 10% plan produced a freshman class at UT Austin with as many black and Latino students as the flagship campus had achieved using explicit racial preferences in the 1990s. Holder, which effectively struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act, freeing nine states, mostly in the South, to change their election laws without advance federal approval. It’s unclear why they took this one up, but courts have consistently turned back such challenges in the past, as did the Fifth Circuit in this case.

In addition, if universities are specifically seeking students who are bridge-builders, preferences for privileged students of color are an unnecessary and blunt instrument. Counting only eligible voters, on the other hand, he said, vindicates the principle that voters “hold the ultimate political power in our democracy.” “The one-person-one-vote principle may, in the end, be of little consequence if we decide that each jurisdiction can choose its own measure of population,” wrote Justice Clarence Thomas. “But as long as we sustain the one-person-one-vote principle, we have an obligation to explain to states and localities what it actually means.”

Census to map total population, but no comparable data exists to allow the use of eligible voters, according to a brief filed by Nathaniel Persily, a Stanford Law School professor who specializes in election law. Indeed, there is evidence that because low-income whites have more experience interacting with minority students in high school, they are more likely than other whites to engage with students of other races during college. Of course, Congressional Republicans have been fiercely opposed to using statistical sampling by the Census Bureau in conducting its decennial survey, so this bed is just packed full of strangers. But instead of urging adoption of a program exclusively for black people, as some civil rights leaders had done, King called for a racially inclusive Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged. Only when racial preferences have been banned, usually by voter initiative, have universities adopted class-based affirmative action programs to indirectly promote racial diversity.

Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, is editor of “The Future of Affirmative Action: New Paths to Higher Education Diversity after Fisher v.

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