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The Daily Tar Heel

Supreme Court upholds one person, one vote

The U.S. Supreme Court voted unanimously Monday to uphold states' abilities to draw legislative districts based on total population. 

Brought forward by two Texas voters, the case — Evenwel v. Abbott — argued that only those who are registered to vote should be counted when determining the size of districts. 

Currently, non-voters like children, the mentally disabled and non-citizens are counted in apportionment, which the plaintiffs argued devalues some citizens' votes in other districts. 

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg said the Texas Senate map is constitutional in the majority opinion. 

“Consistent with constitutional history, this Court’s past decisions reinforce the conclusion that states and localities may comply with the one-person, one-vote principle by designing districts with equal total populations,” Ginsberg wrote for the majority.

The vote does not change any laws, but it reaffirms the precedent set by the Court in the 1960s. 

“One person, one vote means that voting districts have to be roughly equal in size, so when you’re comparing them to each other they are proportional in terms of how the voters are in relationship to an elected official in each of those districts,” said Michael Gerhardt, a UNC law professor. “The ratio has to be basically equal across districts.” 

Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina, said a ruling in the other direction could have had serious implications. 

“I think there are a lot of folks breathing a huge sigh of relief because it could have again created dire, severe problems, even in regard to how federal funds are distributed,” he said. “If you take away young people and undocumented people, the funding for those communities could have been fundamentally changed.”

Phillips said the case has drawn attention to the issue of district apportionment in North Carolina.

“We have a problem in North Carolina in that we draw districts that are highly gerrymandered to benefit one political party,” he said. “It is great that the Supreme Court has made this ruling because it is separate but also connected to this problem of gerrymandering.”

Gerhardt said the decision also affects gerrymandering.

“The Supreme Court is saying that you have to take into account the entire population of a district, including aliens, both legal and illegal,” Gerhardt said. “It makes it harder for the Republican state legislature to gerrymander districts in a way that would be favorable to maintaining their incumbency.”

If the plaintiffs had won the case, Gerhardt said it would have caused problems for voters in many states. 

“The argument (of the plaintiffs) would go hand in hand with the other efforts of the legislature to make voting more difficult and to make it more difficult to register to vote,” Gerhardt said. “It’s going to work in favor of the systematic effort to dilute the amount of Democratic voters or people who are going to vote in favor of Democratic policies.”

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