A collection of racial justice and civil rights organizations recently filed an amicus brief in the Evenwel v. Abbott redistricting case, contending that voting population is not an appropriate basis for drawing state and federal legislative districts.
SCOTUS has consistently applied a metric of total population in redistricting cases. The groups – including Advancement Project, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Asian American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Latino Justice PRLDEF, National Immigration Law Center, National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights – argue that alternative bases for redistricting reinforce and exacerbate existing barriers to voting and equal representation for communities of color. Advancement Project served among the leading co-counsel on the brief. Click here to view the brief.
“Affirming voting population as a basis for drawing legislative lines would be nonsensical,” said Katherine Culliton-González, Advancement Project Senior Attorney and Director of Voter Protection. “At any given time, there are large numbers of people who are ineligible to vote, or are eligible but face legal and practical obstacles to the franchise. Although some individuals may be legally or practically unable to vote, they are still protected by our Constitution.”
“Due to growing racial diversity, failure to count children would have a profoundly discriminatory impact. All members of society are entitled to representation in government, even if they cannot directly participate in the choosing of elected representatives. This is why the Fourteenth Amendment was enacted; to ensure equal protection under the law.”
“The premise of representative government is equal representation for equal numbers of people,” said Advancement Project Co-Director Penda D. Hair. “To reverse course now is to shun precedent and needlessly engineer a plan to bring harm on a specific subset of people; namely communities of color – including children — undocumented individuals and families, persons with prior felony convictions and individuals with disabilities.”
Figures for registered voters and actual voters are not reliable measures for redistricting. These numbers may fluctuate significantly from one election to the next, and are subject to political manipulation.
Furthermore, many voters face legal and practical barriers that make it difficult both to register and to actually cast ballots. The barriers include the cost of naturalization, language access issues, voter identification requirements, voter purges, difficulty getting to polling places, and disenfranchisement of people with prior felony convictions.
To narrowly use voting population in redistricting gives an unfair edge to already advantaged voters, primarily White voters, who have not faced systemic challenges in registration, voting and vote counting processes. Relying on voting population to determine legislative districts further stacks the deck against communities of color.
“To account for long-standing barriers to the ballot, and to ensure all people have a voice in our democracy and a say in decisions impacting their communities, the Court must affirm ‘total population’ as the basis for redistricting,” Hair added.