Contact: Robert Soard, First Assistant County Attorney, (713)274-5103, Robert.Soard@cao.hctx.net
Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan today hailed the U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding Texas’ method of apportioning legislative districts by counting the total population rather than just people eligible to vote. Ryan had filed a friend of the court brief on behalf of Harris County in support of Governor Greg Abbott and the State in the case of Evenwel v. Abbott.
The petitioners in Evenwel, had sought to require the state to leave out people not eligible to vote, including children and resident non-citizens, when determining boundaries. That method would have cost Harris County two to three state legislative seats.
“The Courts have historically and consistently held that the one-person, one-vote principle means all people must be counted,” County Attorney Ryan said. “The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that no state shall ‘deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the law.’ The writers of the Constitution never intended to discount children and immigrants.”
Ryan explained that while children do not vote, the resources allocated to their education, healthcare, and safety determine the community’s future stability and prosperity. If the county had lost representation, resources could possibly be re-directed to less populous areas.
The county brief gave special attention to the legislative history of the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1865 and 1866. That Amendment includes the Equal Protection Clause, which is the basis for the one-person, one-vote doctrine that sets out how congressional seats are to be apportioned on the basis of total population. Ryan argued in his brief that the one-vote, one person doctrine specifically includes children and resident non-citizens.
The Supreme Court’s decision, written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, does not expressly cite the Harris County brief but it does cite much of the legislative history set out by the County. There are at least six citations in the opinion to specific pages of the 1866 congressional proceedings cited in the Harris County brief. A major point of the County’s brief was that in adopting the Fourteenth Amendment, Congress clearly understood the impact of using a total population apportionment base that included women and resident non-citizens, deliberately chose language that would encompass that base, and soundly and repeatedly rejected efforts to adopt the voter-eligible base urged by Evenwel. “Harris County is an international community,” County Attorney Ryan said. “It has proportionately a larger percentage of children and non-citizens than the state as a whole. As a result, a change in the model of representation from a population-based metric to one based on eligible voters would have resulted in a decrease of the county’s representation in the state legislature along with an accompanying increase of representation for areas with lower populations. I applaud the justices for standing up for the rights of all.”
Supreme Court of the United States Opinion Evenwel Et al. v. Abbott, Governor Of Texas:
Brief of Harris County, Texas, as amicus curiae in support of appellees:http://www.scotusblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Evenwel-HarrisCountyBrief092515.pdf