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AGs urge High Court on drawing districts

A bipartisan coalition of 21 states filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court defending the states’ practice of including both voters and nonvoters in drawing state legislative election districts this week.

The brief argues that counting nonvoters with voters in redistricting promotes the democratic principle of ensuring fair and effective representation of all people in state government and has proven to be a workable, reliable and non-partisan process.

“This case is about a bedrock principle of our democracy – ensuring that every American is represented,” Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said. “States across our country have long drawn legislative district lines based on a district’s total population. This process has ensured that the interests of all – even those who cannot vote – are represented in our democracy. We urge the Supreme Court to retain a standard that helps ensure fair and effective representation for all.”

Schneiderman submitted the brief in the case of Evenwel v. Abbott. In this redistricting case, the plaintiffs argue that Texas was required to draw its state senate districts based on the number of “eligible voters” rather than the total number of people living in the state.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas held that Texas was permitted to equalize the population of its state senate districts based on the state’s total population, and was not required to equalize the number of “eligible voters.” This ruling is consistent with uniform federal precedent.

New York’s amicus brief, filed last Friday, argues that adoption of plaintiffs’ theory “would fundamentally upend the states’ redistricting practices” and force them to abandon their use of total population in favor of an ‘eligible voter’ count – one that no existing source of data reliably provides. As the brief explains, the states have built “a unique and long-running collaboration” with the Census Bureau over the past 40 years that “ensures that states have accurate, useful, and neutral total-population counts on which to base redistricting.” Because the Census’s decennial enumeration does not provide states with any counts of voters, accepting plaintiffs’ theory would “throw state redistricting across the country into chaos.”