Next week, the United States Supreme Court will hear oral argument in a very important case about redistricting out of Texas. The potential for the Court to rule in favor of the plaintiffs in the case has liberals quaking in their boots. In 1964 in the case of Reynolds vs. Sims, the Court first articulated the concept of one man-one vote noting that elected officials represent people, not trees or acres. Thus, districts had to be drawn to represent people, or population. Left undefined at the time- a period of over 50 years- is the definition of people. That decision, in fact, used the words “population,” “people,” and “voters” interchangeably.
The mere fact the Court took this case is what has the Left worried. Previously, this issue had come before the Court and the case was denied over the written dissent of Justice Clarence Thomas at the time. Obviously, his view has swayed at least three other Justices since it takes four to grant review.
This case involves the Texas state senate district lines. The plaintiffs argue that the way Texas determined the lines after the 2010 census was flawed. There are 31 senate districts in Texas. The legislature took the total population of the state and divided it by 31 to create the ideal equal-population districts. Of course, some districts have more people than others and that situation is not unique to Texas. Sometimes, there are state laws or rules respecting county lines and such and one would not have a street split down the middle into two different districts in order to satisfy some mathematical precision. And the Supreme Court recognized these facts since 1964 and allow an approximate 10% deviation between the largest and smallest population districts. After the 2010 census, the Texas state senate line deviation stood at 8.4%, not enough to trigger a constitutional challenge.
But that is not the issue here. The issue is, in a nutshell, what counts as a “man(person)” in one man(person)-one vote? The plaintiffs are arguing that their political equality is diminished because they were drawn into a district where the bulk of the population has nothing in common with their area which is rural. They argue that this was done simply to achieve mathematical precision.
To illustrate their case of unequal representation, consider the following hypothetical. A state has ten senate districts. According to the census, there are one million people in this state. Therefore, each senate district should have about 100,000 people. Of course, the population is not evenly spread among the counties in the state. In fact, one county- the only urban one- has 300,000 people. Hence, that county alone would have to be split into 3 districts. But, let’s assume there is an even distribution of the population according to the census across the 20 counties that make up the state. Obviously, two counties would equal one senate district.
However, this state also has a fairly large Hispanic population in relation to other states. In fact, about 30% of the state’s overall population is Hispanic. And furthermore, the census, which is quite precise, has determined that of those 300,000 Hispanics in the state, 50%- or 150,000- are undocumented and ineligible to vote or receive benefits of any kind. Under this scenario, let’s assume that 20,000 undocumented Hispanics are in county A and none are in county B- adjacent counties drawn into the same senate district to achieve that 100,000 per district ideal. Another district nearby composed of two counties has no undocumented aliens. Their representation is 1 senator for every 100,000- mathematical precision. In our hypothetical district, however, the ratio is 1 senator for every 80,000 legal residents. Obviously, the “people” in the district with the large illegal population district have greater representation. In fact, using legal residents as the criteria instead of overall population creates a 20% deviation which is outside the permissible constitutional guidelines.
Evenwell and others were, in fact, from a rural county drawn into a more urban county with a large Hispanic population, many of whom are ineligible to vote since they are undocumented. And we know that illegal immigrants tend to cluster in urban areas because it is easier to stay in the shadows.
The plaintiffs are arguing that instead of using total population another criteria should be used, preferably VEP, or voter eligible population. This is defined as that portion of the population eligible to vote under the state’s or the Federal law. That would mean anyone over the age of 18 who can legally vote in that state thus eliminating the illegal immigrant population, convicted felons in some states, current prison inmates, and others. And determining a county’s VEP is quite simple with the click of a computer mouse.
A decision in favor of Evenwell would have a profound impact on how districts are drawn at the state level. It would effectively decrease the relative political clout of large urban areas in favor of the more rural areas. That is what scares liberals and for two reasons. First, rural citizens tend to vote more often consistently than urban voters and second, rural voters tend to be more conservative and Republican. Even on a larger scale, there would be an impact.
If we subtract out the estimated illegal immigrants on a state-by-state basis from their 2010 census totals which included total population (legal and illegal), California would lose five representatives and Texas would lose three since the bulk of the illegal immigrant population in the country live in those two states. Conversely, those representatives (and electoral votes) have to go somewhere. The beneficiaries would be spread out over several states- Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, Oregon, Montana, Missouri, Michigan and Louisiana. Using the traditional red/blue/purple criteria, blue states would lose a net two representatives, red states break even and swing states would gain two representatives.
Instead, the greater impact is at the local level where urban areas would be hard hit. Of the 50 congressional districts with the lowest levels of VEP, 41 are represented by Democrats and nearly all are Latino-majority districts. Of the 50 districts with the highest VEP, 38 are represented by Republicans and none are minority-majority. Extrapolating out and controlling for VEP we find that Republicans would gain a net total 16 US House seats since traditional GOP territory would push into traditional urban Democratic territory, thus weakening the Democratic stranglehold on urban areas.
Tomorrow, the pros and cons of this case will be looked at and the chances of Evenwell and others prevailing before the Court.