• October 15, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Sean J. Young, Staff Attorney, ACLU Voting Rights Project

    Earlier this week, The New York Times published a column asserting that the American Civil Liberties Union has “seemed to take [] opposite position[s]” in two voting rights disputes. This is wrong.

    In the first dispute, which is pending before the Supreme Court, the question is whether states should be allowed to count all persons for the purposes of equally apportioning their legislative districts, as nearly all states currently do. The ACLU filed an amicus brief answering yes, for our country has long embraced the fundamental principle that all persons, whether or not they can vote, are entitled to equal representation. Given the democratic values of inclusion and equality built into the Constitution, we reject our opponents’ argument that this same Constitution now forces all states to exclude all ineligible voters from their population counts.  Millions of non-citizens are contributing members of our communities, and the vast majority of states that currently provide these individuals the same share of representation that citizens receive should be allowed to continue doing so. 

    In the second dispute, which is pending in the lower courts in Rhode Island and Florida, the question is where incarcerated persons should be counted for apportionment purposes: the place where they were lived prior to incarceration, or the place where they have been involuntarily confined?  The ACLU believes that for the 2.4 million individuals now incarcerated in this country, their “home” should be counted as being the place where they lived prior to incarceration. Counting these incarcerated individuals as “residents” of the district where they have been involuntarily confined artificially inflates the population of the districts in which the prison is based. This type of prison-based gerrymandering results in an unequal system of representation where, after prisoner bodies are siphoned into the district where the prison is based, their numbers are used to increase the district’s political power at the expense of the communities from which these incarcerated individuals had lived. 

  • July 16, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Alan B. Morrison, Lerner Family Associate Dean for Public Interest & Public Service, George Washington University Law School

    *This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

    When most people propose changes in our electoral system, they generally do so in order to achieve a political end, not because the change conforms to a platonic ideal of what elections should be like. So it is with the plaintiffs in Evenwel v. Abbott, No. 14-940, which the Supreme Court will hear this fall. Their claim is that, when states draw their legislative districts, the Equal Protection Clause requires that they use the numbers of voters, instead of the number of people, as the basis for allocating seats within the states.

    The Supreme Court has ended the most blatant forms of gerrymandering and required legislative districts at both the state and federal level to be equal in composition within each state. The Court's rulings have been labeled "one person, one-vote," and the general assumption has been that, in dividing up each house by districts, the denominator has been the total population of the state.

    Evenwel challenges that assumption and argues that, because the goal of one person, one vote is to have each person's vote count the same as every other person's, the denominator should be total voters and not total population. If this were the law, the main groups that would no longer be counted are children, illegal immigrants, those not registered to vote, and felons who are precluded from voting. Until the actual lines are drawn for all the districts in a state, the results are not certain. But we do know that the backer of this lawsuit (Edward Blum) also supports Fisher v. University of Texas, which seeks the elimination of affirmative action in university admission. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that he believes that the change would have an adverse impact on minorities and their Democratic supporters, or at least it has that potential in some states, including Texas where the case was brought.

  • July 10, 2015

    by Caroline Cox

    The New York Times features a debate over whether the Supreme Court has become too powerful.

    At The Atlantic, Russell Berman discusses how a bipartisan consensus in Congress could lead to meaningful reform of the criminal justice system.

    Andrew Prokop reports for Vox on the Florida Supreme Court ruling against partisan gerrymandering.

    At the blog for the Brennan Center for Justice, Walter Shapiro considers what gun control advocates can learn from South Carolina.

    Steven Mazie contends at The Economist’s Democracy in America blog that liberals may find themselves less satisfied with Supreme Court rulings next term. 

    Fili Sagapolutele and Jennifer Sinco Kelleher report for the Associated Press that American Samoa is holding out against the Supreme Court's marriage equality ruling.

  • November 19, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    Simon Lazarus argues at The New Republic that supporters of the Affordable Care Act are inadvertently recycling conservative arguments when defending the healthcare law against the latest legal challenge.

    At The Economist’s Democracy in America blog, Steve Mazie considers empathy on the Supreme Court. He argues that their “small and privileged” circles limit their perspectives.

    Stephanie Mencimer discusses the Alabama redistricting cases for Mother Jones, arguing that the state that helped gut the Voting Rights Act is now using it to justify racial gerrymandering.

    Oliver Roeder of FiveThirtyEight explains why it is so difficult to predict Supreme Court rulings.

    At CNN, Ed O’Keefe reports on Justice Samuel Alito’s recent remarks about the press and criticisms of the Court’s lack of diversity. 

  • December 7, 2012

    by Heejin Hwang

    Not long after the 2012 elections, TPM’s Sahil Kapur asked several elections experts how right-wing lawmakers were able to so easily hold their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, especially since capturing that chamber in 2010 Republican leadership had engaged in obstructionism and promoted the loopy and wildly unpopular idea of privatizing Medicare.

    Sam Wang, a Princeton University professor and co-manager of the Princeton Election Consortium, told Kapur, “The big factors are redistricting and incumbency. In the last few years, Republican-controlled legislatures were very effective at redrawing districts to favor their side. Gerrymandering gave them a built-in advantage of 1.25 percent of vote margin even before a single vote is cast. Incumbency also has its advantages, which is good for another 1.25 percent ….”

    Other states, such as California and Arizona have taken action to lessen partisanship in the creation of voting districts.

    In Nov. 2010, in adherence with the California Voters FIRST Act, State Auditor Elaine Howle randomly selected in lottery like fashion eight members the California Citizens Redistricting Commission (CRC). Two months later, the full-fledged 14-member independent commission embarked on transforming 2010 Census data into State Assembly, State Senate, and congressional district lines.