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Policy: Law

Lawsuit alleges Texas Senate districts are unconstitutional

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AUSTIN, Texas (Legal Newsline) – On Monday, the Project on Fair Representation announced the filing of a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Texas’ state Senate districts.

The plaintiffs in this case, Sue Evenwel and Edward Pfenninger, are registered voters in Texas Senate Districts 1 and 4. They assert that Plan S172 — the Texas Senate redistricting plan enacted by the legislature and signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry on June 26, 2013 — is unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Perry

Perry

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, names Perry and Texas Secretary of State Nandita Berry as defendants.

The plaintiffs seek an order enjoining Texas from conducting further state Senate elections under Plan S172 and ask the court to require the Texas Legislature to reapportion state senatorial voting districts in conformity with the 14th Amendment, court records show.

Members of the Texas Senate are elected to their posts by majority vote of registered voters actually casting ballots in a particular election. In districts where the number of electors is relatively low, the number of voters required to elect a Senate member is fewer than the number of voters required to elect a Senate member in districts where the number of electors is relatively high, the suit states.

“Thus, the vote of an elector residing in a district where the number of electors is relatively high, like the districts in which plaintiffs reside, is given significantly less weight than the votes of those in districts where the number of electors is relatively low,” the suit states.

“Texas did not take into account the number of electors or potential electors in the proposed districts when crafting Plan S172. There are, therefore, gross disparities in the number of electors between Texas Senate districts.”

The lawsuit alleges that Texas’ Senate districts are grossly malapportioned by various measures of eligible voters, thus violating the principle of “one person, one vote” even though all of the districts are roughly equal in total population.

“One-person, one-vote is the cornerstone of our nation’s most enduring election principles,” said Edward Blum, director of the Project on Fair Representation. “That is why we are asking the court to compel the state to remedy the glaring eligible voter gaps. Equalizing eligible voters does not have to come at the expense of equalizing for total population. Both can and should be achieved.”

The complaint says that by some measures the gap between eligible voters in the two Senate districts and those in other districts approaches 50 percent. The effect of this severe overpopulation of voters in the Senate districts in question is that the plaintiffs’ votes carry far less weight than the votes of other citizens in districts that are under-populated with electors, the group says.

For example, the votes of electors in Senate District 3, a district over-populated with electors, have only 61 percent of the weight of the votes of electors in Senate District 27, a district under-populated with electors, the group says. The gross disparities created by Plan S172 violate the fundamental requirement of voter equality under the 14th Amendment, it adds.

POFR is a legal defense foundation based in Virginia.

Bert W. Rein, William S. Consovoy and Brendan J. Morrissey of Wiley Rein, LLP in Washington, D.C., are counsel for the plaintiffs.

Reach David Yates at elections@legalnewsline.com

Original Story: Lawsuit alleges Texas Senate districts are unconstitutional

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