News & Publications

District Pencil

Chris Skinnell Speaks on U.S. Supreme Court’s Upcoming “One Person, One Vote” Redistricting Case

On November 17, 2015, Nielsen Merksamer voting rights, redistricting and initiative law partner Chris Skinnell spoke at the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum at Claremont McKenna College regarding Evenwel v. Abbott, due to be argued before the United States Supreme Court on December 8, and its potential implications for redistricting and voting rights law. Mr. Skinnell’s talk was one in a series of presentations on voting rights and redistricting hosted by the Rose Institute of State and Local Government.

The plaintiffs in Evenwel are challenging the 2001 redistricting of Texas’s state Senate districts, arguing that even though the districts are substantially equal in size based on total population, they violate the promise of equal protection due to the fact that they vary dramatically from the mean—in some cases by as much as 50%—if one considers registered voters. As a result, the plaintiffs contend that their right to an equal vote is unconstitutionally diluted. Historically, the lower courts have generally concluded that the decision to use total population vs. some other measure of population is, essentially, a “political question” that the courts have no reason to interfere with. With one exception—the 1966 case of Burns v. Richardson, in which the Supreme Court upheld Hawaii’s use of registered voters as the measure in the specific circumstances of that case, where there was a substantial transient military and tourist population—the Court has generally declined to hear these cases, denying three prior opportunities.