Evenwel v. Abbott, 578 U.S. ___ (2016)

Issues: , ,




United States Supreme Court
No. 14-940
578 U.S. ___ (2016)
Argued: December 8, 2015????Decided: April 4, 2016

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Holding:?Evenwel v. Abbott, 578 U.S. ___ (2016), was a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court held that the one person, one vote principle under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment allows states to use total population, not just total voting-eligible population, in drawing of legislative districts.

Source: Wikipedia.org


Syllabus:?Under the one-person, one-vote principle, jurisdictions must design legislative districts with equal populations. See Wesberry v. Sanders, 376 U.?S. 1, 7-8, Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.?S. 533, 568. In the context of state and local legislative districting, States may deviate somewhat from perfect population equality to accommodate traditional districting objectives. Where the maximum population deviation between the largest and smallest district is less than 10%, a state or local legislative map presumptively complies with the one-person, one-vote rule.

Texas, like all other States, uses total-population numbers from the decennial census when drawing legislative districts. After the 2010 census, Texas adopted a State Senate map that has a maximum total-population deviation of 8.04%, safely within the presumptively permissible 10% range. However, measured by a voter-population baseline–eligible voters or registered voters–the map’s maximum population deviation exceeds 40%. Appellants, who live in Texas Senate districts with particularly large eligible- and registered-voter populations, filed suit against the Texas Governor and Secretary of State. Basing apportionment on total population, appellants contended, dilutes their votes in relation to voters in other Senate districts, in violation of the one-person, one-vote principle of the Equal Protection Clause. Appellants sought an injunction barring use of the existing Senate map in favor of a map that would equalize the voter population in each district. A three-judge District Court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim on which relief could be granted.

Held:?As constitutional history, precedent, and practice demonstrate, a State or locality may draw its legislative districts based on total population. Pp.?7-19.

(a)?Constitutional history shows that, at the time of the founding, the Framers endorsed allocating House seats to States based on total population. Debating what would become the Fourteenth Amendment, Congress reconsidered the proper basis for apportioning House seats. Retaining the total-population rule, Congress rejected proposals to allocate House seats to States on the basis of voter population. See U.?S. Const., Amdt. 14, ?2. The Framers recognized that use of a total-population baseline served the principle of representational equality. Appellants’ voter-population rule is inconsistent with the “theory of the Constitution,” Cong. Globe, 39th Cong., 1st Sess., 2766-2767, this Court recognized in Wesberry as underlying not just the method of allocating House seats to States but also the method of apportioning legislative seats within States. Pp.?8-15.

(b)?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. Appellants assert that language in this Court’s precedent supports their view that States should equalize the voter-eligible population of districts. But for every sentence appellants quote, one could respond with a line casting the one-person, one-vote guarantee in terms of equality of representation. See, e.g., Reynolds, 377 U.?S., at 560-561. Moreover, from Reynolds on, the Court has consistently looked to total-population figures when evaluating whether districting maps violate the Equal Protection Clause by deviating impermissibly from perfect population equality. Pp.?15-18.

(c)?Settled practice confirms what constitutional history and prior decisions strongly suggest. Adopting voter-eligible apportionment as constitutional command would upset a well-functioning approach to districting that all 50 States and countless local jurisdictions have long followed. As the Framers of the Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment comprehended, representatives serve all residents, not just those eligible to vote. Nonvoters have an important stake in many policy debates and in receiving constituent services. By ensuring that each representative is subject to requests and suggestions from the same number of constituents, total-population apportionment promotes equitable and effective representation. Pp.?18-19.

(d)?Because constitutional history, precedent, and practice reveal the infirmity of appellants’ claim, this Court need not resolve whether, as Texas now argues, States may draw districts to equalize voter-eligible population rather than total population. P.?19.


GINSBURG, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C.?J., and KENNEDY, BREYER, SOTOMAYOR, and KAGAN, JJ., joined. THOMAS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. ALITO, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which THOMAS, J., joined except as to Part III-B.