About 50 years ago, the Supreme Court held that electoral districts must have roughly equal numbers of people, a principle known as “one person, one vote.” The rule left room for interpretation. Did there have to be the same number of residents, i.e., total population? Or did there have to be equal numbers of just eligible or registered voters? Were the states free to choose? And in any case, how did the rule relate to other considerations such as keeping communities together in the same district, or creating majority-minority districts? These are the questions raised in Evenwel v. Abbott, a challenge to Texas’s electoral districts that was before the Supreme Court for oral argument last week.
The peculiar thing about Evenwel is that there isn’t any real disagreement among the states about how one person, one vote should be applied. To the contrary, every single state chose to draw their districts to have roughly the same number of people, not voters. Every single state, in other words, decided that everyone counts when it comes to our representative government.
So why did nine justices find themselves listening to oral argument last week, trying to answer a question that’s never been raised?
Enter Edward Blum. Edward Blum is not a plaintiff in the case and his name is nowhere to be found in the oral argument transcript. Blum is an affluent former stockbroker who uses his wealth to run the Project on Fair Representation, a group whose sole purpose is to erode civil rights on issues ranging from voting to education. Blum’s past efforts include challenging the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, a victory for him but a defeat for voters of color who now must overcome a slew of new hurdles to exercise their right to vote. In fact, Evenwel was argued the very same week as another Blum-funded case, Fisher v. Texas II, in which the Court will once again weigh in on the use of race to promote equality and diversity in college admissions.
In Evenwel, Blum’s goal is simple. If districts are drawn based on eligible voters rather than total population, then political power will shift to white, older, rural voters, and away from younger, urban, communities of color. Such a shift would undoubtedly favor Republican candidates. And since every state in the country currently counts nonvoters—just as they are counted for congressional apportionment—massive, costly redistricting will be required if Edward Blum gets his way.
At oral argument, the justices grappled with who should count, whether states’ rights were implicated, and if both people and voters could be equalized simultaneously. But behind the façade of these technical concerns, it was really the agenda of Edward Blum that was before the Court, and the question was whether his well-heeled efforts to undo civil rights will, yet again, prevail.