Tuesday, April 5, 2016
Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.
Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or
through freely chosen representatives.
These familiar words are reflected in Articles Six and Twenty One of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This week, the US Supreme Court considered how states organize voting districts and who is included in the population that will form the basis of voting districts. Following Shelby v Holder, many were concerned that the efforts to exclude minorities and immigrants from voting access would be successful. There is reason to be concerned, as some states have closed voting locations, manipulated voting districts and taken other measures or attempted measures that effectively limit the ability to vote.
Counterbalancing some voter restriction efforts, on Monday the US Supreme Court announced its opinion in Evenwel v. Abbott, affirming one person, one vote triggering a collective sigh of relief for human rights advocates. The controversy was Texas' anticipated implementation of a rule that only voting eligible individuals would be counted in determining population in organizing a voting district. The effect of this formula would have been to enhance the voting power of rural areas because the population counted in urban areas would be diminished through the elimination of non-citizens, children, those formerly incarcerated for felony convictions, and others who do not have status to vote. Since urban areas reflect larger populations of groups whose members do not vote, the political influence of cities (and minorities and other groups) would diminish.
In a unanimous opinion authored by Justice Ginsburg, and in which Justices Alito and Thomas concurred, the Court rejected the conservative challenge to ‘one person-one vote’ -
“What constitutional history and our prior decisions strongly suggest, settled practice confirms. Adopting voter-eligible apportionment as constitutional command would upset a well-functioning approach to districting that all 50 States and countless local jurisdictions have followed for decades, even centuries.”
Creating an originalist bridge that connected a range of legal interpretive philosophies, Justice Ginsburg wrote “As the Framers of the Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment comprehended, representatives serve all residents, not just those eligible or registered to vote.”
The Court failed to address, or hint at, formulae that it would approve for population counting, although most states use census based ones. But in keeping the decision narrow and reaffirming the fundamental one person-one vote principle, the court achieved unanimity. And that was a much needed expression of the court's ability to work together when fundamental human and civil rights are in play. I can think of another branch of government that could learn from the judiciary.