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Law School Case Brief

Evenwel v. Abbott - 136 S. Ct. 1120 (2016)

Rule:

Based on constitutional history, the United States Supreme Court’s decisions, and longstanding practice, a State may draw its legislative districts based on total population. 

Facts:

Under the one-person, one-vote principle, jurisdictions must design legislative districts with equal populations. 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.

Issue:

Was the drawing of senate districts on the basis of total population rather than the population of those eligible or registered to vote proper?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The court held that the state senate districts were properly drawn on the basis of total population rather than the population of those eligible or registered to vote since constitutional history, U.S. Supreme Court precedent, and the long-standing practice in all of the states established that the state could draw its legislative districts based on total population without denying equal protection to voters in districts with large voter population

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