Equal Representation Threatened in Evenwel v. Abbott

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  • Brian Gladstein
Cook County and City of Chicago Sign on to Amicus Brief organized by Common Cause

Chicago, IL  – The Supreme Court should reject claims by two Texas voters that the state has unconstitutionally diluted the value of their ballots by drawing election districts with equal numbers of citizens but unequal numbers of voters, Common Cause argues in two briefs filed last week in Evenwel v. Abbott.

The City of Chicago and Cook County joined an amicus brief on behalf of 19 others cities organized for the effort by Common Cause, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Baltimore, Atlanta and Salt Lake City.

Common Cause also filed a separate amicus curiae brief in Evenwel that contends that the Constitution, and in particular the 14th Amendment’s declaration that every person is entitled to “equal protection of the laws,” requires that state legislative districts contain roughly equal numbers of  people.

Districts drawn based on their number of voters could have dramatically different populations. They would make invisible in our democracy people under the age of 18, along with thousands of non-citizen immigrants serving in the U.S. military, the elderly whose voter registration may have lapsed, and many others who live and work in our communities but are ineligible or choose not to vote, the brief argues.

The Evenwel case has attracted the attention of voting rights activists, state legislators and local officials across the country. No date has been set for argument.

“I am proud of the City of Chicago and Cook County for doing the right thing and taking this important action in this case,” said Brian Gladstein, Common Cause Illinois’ Executive Director. “We are starting to see that many of the local officials in Illinois are supporting real reform from passing online voter registration in 2013 and same day registration 2014 and now taking a stand on redistricting reform.”  

“The plaintiffs essentially argue that voters are entitled to more representation than non-voters,” said Kathy Feng, Common Cause’s national redistricting director. “If the plaintiffs succeed, millions of people who live and work in our communities and pay taxes to support our schools, police, and fire departments and other important services would be denied representation in every state capitol in America simply because they are ineligible to vote.”

The Evenwel case is reaching the high court well in advance of the next round of redistricting, which in most states will occur in 2021.  But it comes amid a growing consensus among legal scholars and political observers that partisan gerrymandering during past redistricting exercises has been a major contributor to bitter divisions between Democrats and Republicans in Congress and many state legislatures.