The United States Supreme Court on Monday unanimously upheld a Texas law that counts everyone – not just eligible voters – in deciding how to draw electoral districts.
Federal law requires states to draw political districts of roughly equal population – according to the principle of "one person, one vote." Texas drew its latest state senate districting map using the same standard as every other state in the union.
The challengers said that approach created districts with vastly different population counts. They argued it discriminates against eligible voters, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The Supreme Court disagreed.
Peter Linzer teaches constitutional law at the University of Houston Law Center. He says it would have been easy for the high court to just uphold the lower court ruling in Texas' favor.
"Instead," Linzer says, "we get a 20-page opinion from Justice [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg, plus concurrences by Justices [Clarence] Thomas and [Samuel] Alito, arguing on the question of, ‘These people who aren't registered, do they have a right to be thought about by their representatives, be represented by the people who they couldn't vote for?' And the opinion strongly says yes."
The ruling is likely to bolster the voting power of Texas' booming Latino population over sparsely populated rural areas dominated by conservatives.
"This is a monumental case for Latinos in this state and for all Texans," says State Senator Sylvia Garcia, who represents Senate District 6, covering Houston and Harris County. "The Supreme Court is sending a very strong signal that everybody deserves representation in Congress and in all levels of government."
But the high court's ruling did not preclude states from changing their laws to redefine "one person, one vote" as being limited to eligible voters. The Project on Fair Representation is a conservative advocacy group that helped bring the suit against Texas. Edward Blum is the group's director.
"As the nation approaches another round of redistricting in 2020, our group, and I believe other groups, will encourage jurisdictions throughout the country to use some metric of citizen population, not total population," Blum says.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's office issued a statement saying only that his office was pleased with the decision and "committed to defending the Constitution."