By Stephen Dinan - The Washington Times - Monday, April 4, 2016
A unanimous Supreme Court ruled Monday that illegal immigrants and other noncitizens can be counted when states draw their legislative districts, shooting down a challenge by Texas residents who said their own voting power was being diluted.
The ruling does not grant noncitizens the power to vote, but says the principle of one person, one vote doesn’t require localities to only count those who are actually eligible to vote when they are deciding how many people to put inside of each district.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the court, said even though only eligible voters are supposed to cast ballots, elected officials represent all people within their districts, and it is that act of representation, not the election itself, that the boundaries are drawn to.
“As the Framers of the Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment comprehended, representatives serve all residents, not just those eligible or registered to vote,” she wrote. “Nonvoters have an important stake in many policy debates — children, their parents, even their grandparents, for example, have a stake in a strong public-education system — and in receiving constituent services, such as help navigating public-benefits bureaucracies.”
Hispanic groups hailed the ruling as a victory for their own political power, saying it ensured Latinos continue to earn representation even if they don’t have the right to vote.
But conservatives and those who want to see a crackdown on illegal immigration said the ruling could entice even more communities to become sanctuary cities, shielding illegal immigrants in an attempt to attract more nonvoters and build their political clout.
Texas residents had challenged the way districts were drawn in their state, saying that because they ended up in districts with more eligible voters, their vote counted less than someone in another district.
Because of illegal immigrants, other noncitizens and children under 18 years of age, state legislative districts in Texas can vary by as much as 40 percent. That means one state Senate district has 584,000 eligible voters, while another has just 372,000 — and Texans in that first district say that means they have a smaller say in who represents them than does a resident of the second district.
The process of dividing up districts is known as apportionment.
At the federal level, congressional districts have been drawn based on total population under the strictures of the 14th Amendment.
All 50 states have generally followed the same rules, though the Constitution wasn’t explicit on the matter.
The justices didn’t rule out the possibility, if a state wishes, of using eligible voters to apportion districts. Justice Ginsburg said they didn’t need to reach that question for now, though two members of the court, Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Anthony Alito Jr., both signaled they wanted to tackle that subject.