The concept of "one person, one vote" has long been a cherished one in the United States, and on Monday an unusually united US Supreme Court solidified it.
Two residents in Texas had argued that in drawing legislative boundaries to create districts with roughly equal populations, states should count the voting population, not the total population. This was widely interpreted as an effort to dilute strong Democratic districts by weeding out voter blocs, in Texas' case Hispanics, that traditionally have low voter registration.
Revealingly, the two Texans were represented before the Supreme Court by the Project on Fair Representation, one of those increasingly common organizations whose title is the antithesis of what they advocate. This group was behind a challenge to the Voting Rights Act that led to its gutting by a narrow vote of the Supreme Court three years ago.
In this case, even the court's four conservatives, down from five because of the death of Judge Antonin Scalia, would have none of it. The concept of "one person, one vote" means that everyone, regardless of their age, legal status, voting history, and so on, is represented by their elected officials. It's a basic principle that until Monday the top Court in the land had not weighed in on definitively.
Writing for the unanimous Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg declared that "Adopting voter-eligible apportionment as constitutional command would upset a well-functioning approach to districting that all 50 states and countless local jurisdictions have followed for decades, even centuries." Judge Ginsburg added that the challengers "have shown no reason for the court to disturb the long-standing use of total populating." In short, if it's not broke, don't fix it.
The "reason," of course, was political mischief. There will be plenty of that in the months ahead, as there was in 2012, when Republican officials in states like Pennsylvania and Ohio tried to enact voting laws supposedly addressing non-existent "fraud" that were instead designed to keep blacks, Hispanics, the poor and other likely Democratic voters away from the polls. The courts shot down these efforts for the most part and they will have to be vigilant again.
In her decision, Judge Ginsburg got to the essence of "one person, one vote" when she wrote that "Nonvoters have an important stake in many policy debates, and in receiving constituent services." They do have that stake — and voters also have an important stake in getting to the polls without politically motivated interference. It is incumbent upon the legal system to assure that they are able to in this heated national election year.