Decision in Texas redistricting case could be setback for Brown
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday in a Texas redistricting case that everyone must be counted in the redrawing of congressional and legislative districts.
The 8-0 decision is a potential legal setback for U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, a Jacksonville Democrat whose legal challenge to Florida's court-ordered redistricting plan includes complaints that non-voting prison inmates are counted in her district's population.
As reported by the Associated Press, the high court justices turned back a challenge that could have dramatically altered political district boundaries and disproportionately affected the nation's growing Latino population.
The court ruled that Texas' challenged state Senate districting map complied with the principle of "one person, one vote" or the requirement that political districts be roughly equal in population.
"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 wrote in summarizing her opinion for the court. She noted that "history, our decisions and settled practice in all 50 states and countless local jurisdictions point in the same direction."
Two rural Texas voters, in the case of Evenwel vs. Abbott, had challenged the use of total population data in drawing state Senate districts because they said it inflates the voting power of city dwellers at their expense.
Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Florida, praised what he called a "great decision" by the nation's highest court in a case that he called a direct attack on immigrants. (The ACLU filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Texas case).
"It reaffirms a fundamental principle of democracy that all residents are counted in drawing election districts," Simon said. "This was an attack on immigrants, and we have a growing immigrant population in this country ... The point is, every resident of a district has a voice that deserves to be heard."
In Florida, as in Texas and other states that have large immigrant populations, urban districts include many more people who are too young, not citizens or otherwise not eligible to vote.
Civil rights groups said forcing states to change their method of constructing districts would have damaged Latino political influence.
Rep. Brown, who has been in Congress since 1992, says that Florida's reconfigured 5th congressional district, which she currently represents, illegally diluted the power of African-American voters by including 18 state prisons, mostly along the I-10 corridor in North Florida. That means the district's population includes thousands of black inmates who are not allowed to vote under Florida law.