Evenwel v. Abbott

PETITIONER:Sue Evenwel, et al.
RESPONDENT:Greg Abbott, Governor of Texas, et al.
LOCATION: United States District Court for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division

DOCKET NO.: 14-940
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2016- )
LOWER COURT: Federal district court

CITATION: 578 US (2016)
GRANTED: May 26, 2015
ARGUED: Dec 08, 2015
DECIDED: Apr 04, 2016

Ian H. Gershengorn – Deputy Solicitor General, for the United States as amicus curiae, for the appellees
Scott A. Keller – for the appellees
William S. Consovoy – for the appellants

Facts of the case

The Texas Constitution requires that the state legislature reapportion its senate districts during the first regular session after every federal census. After the 2010 census, the legislature created a redistricting plan that was signed into law. However, a three-judge panel of the federal district court found that there was a substantial claim that this redistricting plan violated the Voting Rights Act and issued an interim plan for the 2012 primary elections that was subsequently adopted and signed into law.

Plaintiffs Sue Evenwel and Edward Pfenniger are registered Texas voters who sued and claimed that the interim plan that was adopted and signed into law violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. They argued that the new districts do not adhere to the ‘one person, one vote’ principle, which the Supreme Court had previously held exists in the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, because they were apportioned based on total population rather than registered voter population, and while the new districts are relatively equal in terms of total population, they vary wildly in relation to total voter population. The district court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss and held that the plaintiffs failed to state a claim based on Equal Protection Clause jurisprudence, which allows total population to be the basis for district apportionment. The Supreme Court noted probable jurisdiction on the appeal.


Does the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment require that districting take into account the number of voters rather than the total population?

Media for Evenwel v. Abbott

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – December 08, 2015 in Evenwel v. Abbott

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – April 04, 2016 in Evenwel v. Abbott

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Ginsburg has our opinion this morning in case14-940, Evenwel versus Abbott.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

In 1964 in Wesberry against Sanders and Reynolds v. Sims, this Court declared what has become known as the one person, one vote principle which means states and localities must draw legislative districts with equal populations.

Wesberry involved congressional districting and tied the principle to Article I, §2 of the Constitution.

Reynolds addressed state legislative districting and relied on Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.

Over the ensuing decades, the Court has several times resolved disputes over the permissibility of deviating from perfect population equality.

In contrast, little attention has been paid to the population base jurisdictions must equalize to meet the one person, one vote demand.

In rare instances jurisdictions have equalized the voter eligible or registered voter populations of districts.

Today, however, when drawing congressional and state legislative districts, all states use total population figures from descending of census.

After the 2010 census, Texas adopted a new state senate map designed to equalize the total population of districts.

Deviations among districts using a total population measure fall well within the presumptively permissible 10% range but measured by a voter population base that is eligible voters or registered voters deviation between the most and least populated districts exceeds 40%.

Appellants are Texas voters who live in states senate districts with particularly large eligible and registered voter populations.

They filed suit contesting Texas’s map.

By using total population figures, they allege, the map dilutes their votes in relation to voters in other states senate districts in violation of the one-person one-vote principle.

The three judge district court held unanimously that the Equal Protection Clause does not compel Texas to equalize the voter population rather than the total population of state legislative districts.

We affirm that district court’s judgment.

Jurisdictions may design state and local legislative districts with equal total populations, behold, they are not obliged to equalize voter population.

The Constitution’s framers confronted a question akin to the one we answer here.

On what basis should congressional districts be allocated to states?

The framers’ solution now known as the Great Compromise allocated an equal number of senate seats to each state regardless of population but made a state’s total population the basis for allocating house seats.

Total population apportionment, the framers recognized, achieved representational equality by ensuring that all people not just voters count in composing house membership.

Decades after the founding era, debating what is now the Fourteenth Amendment Congress reconsidered the proper basis for apportioning house seats.

Although some members urged adoption of voter population apportionment, Congress rejected that measurement.

Instead, Congress reaffirmed the principle of representational equality by retaining total population as the congressional apportionment base.

Appellants ask us now to derive from the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause a different rule for state legislatures one calling for equalizing voter population.

We decline to do so.

It cannot be the reason that the Fourteenth Amendment falls with the apportionment of congressional districts based on total population but simultaneously forbid states from apportioning their own legislative districts the very same way.

From Reynolds in 1964 and ever after this Court has consistently looked at total population when evaluating whether the districting maps comply with the one-person, one-vote requirement.

History, our decisions and settled practice in all 50 states and countless local jurisdictions point in the same direction, total population apportionment meets the Equal Protection demand by rendering each representative alert to the interests and constituents’ service request of all who dwell in the representative’s district.

Because Texas properly equalized the total population of its senate districts, we need not and do not resolve whether as Texas now argues states may elect to draw districts to equalize voter population instead.

Justice Thomas has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

Justice Alito has also filed an opinion concurring in the judgment joined by Justice Thomas, except as to Part 3b.