A Bridge Too Far

Recently the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments for a case entitled Evenwel vs. Abbott. The plaintiffs (Pfenniger and Evenwel) argue that the legislative districts of the State of Texas, as currently drawn, do not accurately reflect the will of those eligible to vote. The plaintiffs contend the current districts are based on an elected state legislature representing a population and not an electorate, and therefore do not fairly or accurately enact the will of the voters (who assembled them). A district with a large population of eligible AND ineligible voters will benefit disproportionately while a district with more eligible voters and less ineligible ones will be penalized. For example: children, some convicted felons, prisoners, folks without a permanent address (homeless), non-resident aliens as well as illegal aliens are/may be included in the official U.S. Census along with eligible voters. An area with a large population of the former may necessitate 2 representatives in the legislature. An adjacent area may have a greater number of eligible voters. That adjacent area will necessitate only one representative, with a smaller overall census count due to less children, homeless, non-resident aliens, etc. The plaintiffs claim this to be a violation of the constitutional “one person, one vote”, that fair representation should be based on the number of voters, not population (voters and non-voters). Pfenniger and Evenwel are represented by the Project On Fair Representation, the same folks who, in 2013, precipitated the Court’s degradation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Political pundits, civil rights watchdogs, and cultural critics view this as just another attempt by a dwindling demographic to maintain their previous dominance of gov’t and its composition. Should the case be decided in favor of Evenwel, it would question previous constitutional mandates of basing representation on the U.S. Census count. State legislative representation/districts would be determined by individual state counts of eligible voters, something not currently done. Who determines eligibility (who is counted) as well as who does the counting (and how) is problematic, to say the least. Analysis finds the implications of this strategy, such an argument, to be short sighted, less beneficial than the plaintiffs intend, ultimately detrimental to their hopes of manipulating democracy. Currently, in central Ohio, someone like Pat Tiberi would be unaffected by the court ruling in Evenwel’s favor (“Under the Fourteenth Amendment, states are allocated House seats by “counting the whole number of persons in each state.”” ThinkProgress). However, Newark’s Jay Hottinger and Scott Ryan would be affected by this interpretation of “one person, one vote”. Currently, these state legislators can, justly or unjustly, accurately or deceptively, claim to represent those ineligible to vote in their districts – children, those deemed incompetent or ineligible, homeless, aliens, etc. After the SCOTUS Citizens United ruling, corporate “persons” must likewise be included in this group (thanks to the Court’s interpretation of the 14th Amendment). Even a casual glance at a publication like the Newark Advocate or a chance encounter with a legislator’s prepared presentation will evidence their commitment to representing corporate businesses within their district. If the Project On Fair Representation prevails then state legislators like Hottinger and Ryan will no longer be justified representatives of corporate businesses, and would need to couch their legislative practices in favor of business otherwise, i.e. as catering to the interests of non-voters. Along with children, aliens, homeless, etc. corporate businesses are ineligible to vote. Ultimately, a SCOTUS ruling in favor of Evenwel may result in a de facto practice detrimental to the ends for which the plaintiffs originally filed suit. The current status quo better serves their interests by maintaining the charade that elected state legislators legitimately “represent” the corporate entities within their districts. As the “Timken” redistricting in Canton showed, this is a very real and continuous priority and practice.

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