In a decision that directly impacts Latinos, the nation’s largest minority group, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld a Texas law on Monday that requires that everyone in an electoral district be counted when it is being redrawn.
The court had heard arguments in a case from Texas on the meaning of the principle of "one person, one vote," which the court said required that political districts be roughly equal in population.
But left open until Monday's ruling was the question of whether states must count all residents, or only eligible voters, in drawing district lines.
"Jurisdictions may design state and local legislative districts with equal total populations, we hold; they are not obliged to equalize voter populations," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, summarizing her opinion for the court.
Ginsburg said that "history, our decisions and settled practice in all 50 states and countless local jurisdictions point in the same direction."
The case had the potential to dramatically alter political district boundaries and disproportionately affect the nation's growing Latino population.
Sen. Bob Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, lauded the ruling.
“Today's unanimous and common-sense decision by the Supreme Court to uphold the one-person one-vote principle is a victory for voting rights and for our nation as a whole," he said in a statement. "This ruling confirms what we have known to be truth over the last 50 years: Every individual deserves to be counted and represented by their elected officials, no matter their race, immigration status, religion, or age."
"By continuing to give everyone a voice and counting all people when drawing election districts, the Supreme Court has strengthened our democracy.”
The court ruled that Texas' challenged state Senate districting map complied with the principle of "one person, one vote."
The challengers said the districts had vastly different population counts when looking at eligible voters, in violation of the Constitution.
In Texas, and other states with large immigrant populations, the difference is more than academic. Urban districts include many more people who are too young, not citizens or otherwise ineligible to vote.
Two rural Texas voters challenged the use of total population data in drawing state Senate districts because they said it inflated the voting power of city dwellers at their expense.
Civil rights groups had said forcing states to change their method would damage Latino political influence. Texas picked up four congressional seats after the 2010 census, mainly because of the growth in its Hispanic population.
Texas residents Sue Evenwel and Edward Pfenninger live in mainly rural districts outside Houston. Their districts have at least 170,000 more eligible voters than a downtown Houston district with equal population.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.
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