AUSTIN (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court handed Texas a victory Monday, upholding the state’s system of drawing legislative voting districts based on everyone who lives there — not just registered voters.
But it was liberal groups, rather than the Republican-controlled state’s top leaders, who applauded the 8-0 ruling loudest since it likely bolsters the voting power of Texas’ booming Latino population over sparsely populated rural areas dominated by conservatives.
Gov. Greg Abbott’s office declined to comment. Attorney General Ken Paxton put out a statement saying only that his office was pleased with the decision and “committed to defending the Constitution and ensuring the state legislature, representing the citizens, continues to have the freedom to ensure voting rights consistent with the Constitution.”
Contrast that with the head of the Texas Democratic Party, which hailed the ruling as affirming the principle of “one person, one vote,” a requirement laid out by the Supreme Court in 1964.
“This is a victory for our democracy and every Texas family,” party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement.
Added American Civil Liberties Union Legal Director Steven Shapiro: “The argument that states are forbidden from treating everyone equally for redistricting purposes never made any constitutional sense and was properly rejected.”
That was a far cry from the years Texas Democrats and civil liberties and Hispanic advocacy groups have spent arguing in federal court that the Republican-controlled Legislature discriminates against minority voters in other ways it has drawn voting maps and in its approval of one of the nation’s toughest voter ID laws.
They say that minority voters are more likely to support Democrats, but have been deliberately dispersed by many lawmaker-drawn electoral maps or are less likely to have one of seven forms of identification Texas now accepts at the polls.
Texas’ top officials have long countered that the electoral maps are fair and that its voter ID law prevents election fraud.
At issue in this case were the complaints of two Texas voters, Sue Evenwel of Mount Pleasant and Edward Pfenninger from north of Houston, who argued that their voting power was diluted because many registered voters lived in their districts.
They compared that to Texans casting ballots in urban areas dominated by people who were too young to vote, or who aren’t American citizens.
While arguing the case before the Supreme Court in December, both sides defended the notion of one person, one vote, but differed on how to apply it.
Paxton’s office defended Texas’ current system, which has been good to Republicans. A Democrat hasn’t won statewide office in Texas since 1994 — the nation’s longest such losing streak.
But it also suggested that a ruling overturning Texas’ system would simply allow the state to determine another acceptable method.
The Supreme Court stopped short Monday of saying that states must use total population. It also didn’t rule on whether states are free to use a different measure, as Texas had asked.
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