Latino leaders were cheering what they said was a significant victory for Latino political power after the Supreme Court voted 8-0 not to change the use of population for mapping out political representation.
The court rejected a challenge brought from Texas. The challenges wanted to require states to use eligible voters to draw political districts that candidates run in for Congress, state Senate and House and many locally elected offices and in some states, judgeships.
“This is a victory for democracy where Latinos are at the core of the effort to slow down the inevitable, which would be full participation of Latinos in voting,” said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, a bipartisan group.
“What this case was about was how do we keep Mexicans from having too much political representation? Denying representation based on age and citizenship status would have been the most effective way from keeping Latinos fairly represented,” Vargas said.
Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, called the decision a “tremendous victory for democratic representation and the notion that all constituents count."
“The main target is the Latino community,” Saenz said. “They would have sought to completely discount children and immigrants not naturalized. Because Latinos are younger, we have a higher population under 18 and a higher immigrant population that is not naturalized. The big impact would have been to reduce Latino representation."
The attempt to change to a system based on voter eligible populations was based on an argument that using population dilutes the power of voting residents in districts with large numbers of people not eligible to vote, violating the ‘one-person, one-vote requirement.’
In its unanimous decision the court ruled that using only voters to draw political districts would “upset a well-functioning approach to districting that all 50 states and countless local jurisdictions have followed for decades, even centuries.”
Six justices joined in the court’s opinion, including Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who wrote it. Two others wrote their own concurring opinions. There are nine Supreme Court justices but the death of Justice Antonin Scalia last month has left a vacancy.
Alito pointed out that the decision doesn't bar states from using the voting eligible population.
But Saenz said with six justices writing the unanimous opinion, states trying to do otherwise would do so at “great, great peril.”
The state of Texas opposed making the change.
Any effort by states to switch their system, since they were not barred from doing so, would be opposed by Latino groups, said Hector Sanchez, chairman of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda.
“We will fight those who make it harder for Latinos to go to the polls or try to change the rules of the game, like in this case, to exclude our families," Sanchez said.
Vargas said the decision underscores that elected officials serving on city councils, in legislatures, or Congress “need to represent everybody in their districts.
He said he takes “great comfort in the Supreme Court recognizing that elected officials represent all constituents, not just those eligible to vote.”