In its battle to shift ever more wealth and power to the top tenth of one percent,* the right now has a new case pending before the Supreme Court: Evenwel v. Abbott, as explained here in the New York Times. Way more important, even, than Citizens United.
In small part:
The court’s decision in the case, expected by June, has the potential to shift political power from urban areas to rural ones, a move that would provide a big boost to Republican voters in state legislative races in large parts of the nation.
The basic question in the case, Evenwel v. Abbott, No. 14-940, is who must be counted in creating voting districts: all residents or just eligible voters? Right now, all states and most localities count everyone.
The difference matters because people who are not eligible to vote — children, immigrants here legally who are not citizens, unauthorized immigrants, people disenfranchised for committing felonies, prisoners — are not spread evenly across the country. With the exception of prisoners, they tend to be concentrated in urban areas.
Their presence amplifies the voting power of eligible voters in those areas, usually helping Democrats. Rural areas that lean Republican, by contrast, usually have higher percentages of eligible voters.
Why should children be counted in determining the population of a district? They are so small! Maybe, at most, count them as three-fifths of a person?
And that’s the point: when the Founding Fathers drew up the Constitution, they excluded women and children and guys without property from the vote — but said that any free person (including indentured servants but not including untaxed native Americans) — and three-fifths of each slave — should be represented: i.e., counted in determining the size of a Congressional district.
Now — at least for the purposes of determining state legislative districts — comes Sue Evenwel before the Supreme Court to argue that, no, only eligible voters should be counted. Which in a state like Florida, for example, would exclude about a quarter of all African Americans, who are currently ineligible because they had felony convictions at some point in their lives. (A 2016 ballot initiative could conceivably change that.)
What’s more, if the Court were to decide that states could count only eligible voters when apportioning representatives, might Republican legislators at some point not try to apportion state and federal funds (for highways, schools, etc.) equally among districts? Which would mean less money per capita for poorer districts than for wealthy ones?**
It’s a rotten piece of work, but just the kind of thing you can imagine some of this Court’s Justices — like the ones who gutted the Voting Rights Act or who gave the Presidency to George W. Bush or who blew up campaign finance law with Citizens United and McCutcheon — cottoning to.
As Supreme Court Justices are generally assumed to take popular sentiment into account, we need to spend the next several months going crazy.
Spread the word!
*Dropping the top rate on dividends from 90% under Eisenhower to 15% under Bush; pushing to eliminate Reagan’s 55% estate tax on billionheirs, empowering corporations with Citizens United; gutting the Voting Rights Act; multiplying by 50 what the rich can give in federal campaign contributions.
**The Fourteenth Amendment: “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.” Certainly, children and those who’ve been convicted of a marijuana possession, etc., are citizens. Not counting them as legislative districts are drawn gives them (and the others in their district) less power. By way of illustration, imagine a state that provided one representative per 30,000 eligible voters. One district is comprised entirely of seniors living on golf courses (whose folks had been able to buy them out of felony marijuana-possession charges when they were at Dartmouth) . . . so there are 30,000 of them with one representative. And another has 90,000 people, 60,000 of them children and felons. They, too, get just one representative — a third the political representation per capita of their neighbors. A third is not equal. Neither is three-fifths.