Today, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) filed an amicus brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the principle that states count every resident when apportioning legislative districts to ensure equal access to representation. The case, entitled Evenwel v. Abbott, involves a sweeping attempt to redefine how states undertake redistricting and threatens to confer second-class status on millions of persons in our country. LDF joined numerous other civil rights organizations, historians, social scientists and state and local governments in exhorting the Court to preserve states’ longstanding and inclusive redistricting methods in keeping with what our Constitution mandates for congressional districting.
“Essential to our constitutional democracy is the promise that everyone has an equal right to access their political representatives,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, LDF President and Director-Counsel of LDF. “Towards that end, states have long drawn equally-sized districts by counting total population. But this case tests our commitment to that commonsense practice and to our broader constitutional principles.”
For decades and throughout the country, the use of total population has been regarded as the most democratic and equitable way to apportion representative districts. In their friend of the court brief filed together with the law firm of O’Melveny & Myers LLP, LDF argues that continuing to use total population figures, as opposed to “eligible voter” figures, for apportioning state legislative districts guarantees equal access to representation for all people. Indeed, Appellants do not offer a clear definition of “eligible voters,” and determining who is eligible to vote for purposes of redistricting opens the door for gamesmanship, political manipulation and discrimination. Using total population figures ensures that every person is entitled to equal protection of the laws in accordance with our Constitution. That right to equal protection compels the use of an apportionment process that acknowledges all persons without regard to race, age or voter registration status.
“Counting the total population in legislative apportionment has been embraced so consistently and for so long, it has become de facto national policy for redistricting,” Ifill continued. Limiting the relevant population to only voters would exclude children, many immigrants and upwards of 20 million black residents nationwide. This includes approximately 13 million black children, 5 million non-registered black voters, 2 million black non-citizens and 2 million black individuals who are disfranchised. Their exclusion from the population that “counts” for purposes of apportionment would render such persons “invisible” to representatives in the 50 states.
“A critical reason that the use of total population for state redistricting has worked well for so long is that it gives elected officials greater incentive to be responsive to everyone who lives in their district, not just those eligible to vote,” said Janai Nelson, Associate Director-Counsel at LDF. “Appellants here advance a regressive vision of the Constitution where fewer and fewer people count in critical political decisions, along all-to-familiar and divisive lines.”
LDF argued the 1960 case of Gomillion v. Lightfoot, in which the Supreme Court ultimately rejected the Alabama legislature’s attempt to exclude almost all black residents, and no white residents, from the ability to participate in the City of Tuskegee’s municipal elections. “Gomillion laid the groundwork for other landmark rulings that have repeatedly rejected efforts to ‘fence out’ discrete groups from the political process. The Justices should be guided by that principle once more and remain cognizant of the significant strides that our country has made towards more inclusive and accessible democratic institutions,” said John Paul Schnapper-Casteras, LDF’s Special Counsel for Appellate and Supreme Court Advocacy.
“The foundation of our society is that everyone has a voice in our democracy, whether or not they are registered or eligible to vote,” said Leah Aden, LDF Assistant Counsel. “To undermine this basic principle would render historically disfavored groups and underserved communities invisible in vital spaces.”
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The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is not a part of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) although LDF was founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. Since 1957, LDF has been a completely separate organization. Please refer to us in all media attributions as the “NAACP Legal Defense Fund” or “LDF”.