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Supreme Court rejects call to change voting district head counts

April 01, 2013|By David G. Savage
  • The Supreme Court on Monday ruled against a call to adjust the way voting districts are composed.
The Supreme Court on Monday ruled against a call to adjust the way voting… (Win McNamee / Getty Images )

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has rejected a conservative challenge to the common practice of counting everyone, not just U.S. citizens, when adjusting the size of voting districts across the nation.

Without comment, the justices let stand a redistricting rule that benefits urban areas like Los Angeles and Chicago that have a higher percentage of noncitizens as residents.

Since the 1960s, the court has said that election districts should be equal in size under the so-called one person, one vote rule. Under this rule, U.S. representatives, state legislators, city council members and county board members usually represent about the same number of people.

But the court had not ruled directly on whether these districts should be counted based on the number of persons who live there or on the number of citizens who are eligible to vote.

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A conservative group called the Project on Fair Representation has led the challenge to the Voting Rights Act in a case from Alabama. Its lawyers filed a separate appeal in a Texas case that urged the justices to revisit the one person, one vote rule and say that only eligible voters should be counted.

Their lawyers argued that because of “changing immigration patterns,” the standard method of counting all residents shifts political power “away from rural communities to urban centers with high concentrations of residents who are ineligible to vote.” 

They cited a case from Irving, Texas, where the City Council had been pressed to redraw its districts so as to create one with a Latino majority. Under the new plan, the council was elected from six districts, all of which had about 31,000 people, based on a census tally. But the Latino district had only 11,200 eligible voters, compared with 20,600 eligible voters in a neighboring district. This “stark disparity” means that the voters in the first district have nearly twice as much clout as those in the second, they said.

Keith Lepak and several other city voters sued, arguing that counting all people, including noncitizens, diluted their votes and denied them the equal protection of the laws promised in the 14th Amendment. They lost before a federal judge and the 5thCircuit Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court turned down the appeal Monday in Lepak vs. City of Irving.

Defenders of the city’s plan noted that the 14thAmendment says representatives to Congress shall be allocated by “counting the whole number of persons in each state.” 

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david.savage@latimes.com

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