Every person must be represented without exceptionMaria Teresa Kumar
Written by Maria Teresa Kumar
(The Hill) – This week, the Supreme Court heard a new, conservative challenge to “One person, one vote” principle, which if upheld, would completely upend Texas’, and potentially other states’, current system of drawing legislative lines.
In Evenwel v. Abbott, the plaintiffs argue that legislative lines should be drawn in such a way that those represented would only include people in districts who are eligible to vote, so only U.S. citizens over the age of 18, leaving districts increasingly more rural, white, and conservative.
This case is an attempt to further weaken the Voting Rights Act that has already been gutted by the Shelby County v. Holder case in 2013, and will further harm Latino, African American, and Asian American communities by leaving millions out of the democratic process of our country and unrepresented.
This would also lead to former felons being left out of the process as well as they are ineligible to vote in most states, disenfranchising those who have had to deal with an unjust criminal justice system that disproportionately affects black and Latino communities.
But as Chief Justice Earl Warren once said, “Legislators represent people, not trees or acres.”
A negative ruling would be particularly harmful to the Latino community and would leave Latino-majority districts across the country underrepresented. As we look toward 2016, the time is now to build on the infrastructure for the Latino community – not dismantle it.
If states were to use solely eligible voters instead of total population to redraw district lines, more than 55 percent of the entire Latino community, including non-citizens and millions of U.S. citizen children born in the U.S., wouldn’t be counted.
In fact, children comprise the largest group of people in the country who are ineligible to vote, and U.S. citizen children should not be penalized by losing representatives.
At a time when millions of immigrant families continue to live in fear of being torn apart by a rogue enforcement system, and as women’s right to health continues to suffer from a barrage of attacks, we urge the Supreme Court to stand on the right side of history.
We must stay true to Justice Warren’s words that every person must be represented without exception and total population must remain the starting point when drawing district lines in our states.
The Fourteenth Amendment in the U.S. Constitution decided this already, when it got rid of the three-fifths rule for former slaves and based House seats on “the whole number of persons in each State,” making no mention of one’s age, legal status, or in this case gender, as women were still included even though women’s suffrage wouldn’t be won until 1919.
This case is nothing more than conservatives’ fear of our country’s changing demographics, and an effort to further disenfranchise communities of color. Latino communities already face myriad barriers to voting from policies which restrict early voting and voter ID laws that disproportionately affect low-income people of color.
Less than half of Latinos eligible to vote do so, and one of the major reasons are nefarious cases like these, that make millions of Latino families feel less than American, when in reality many of those affected are American through and through. But history has demonstrated that communities participate when their backs are pushed against the wall. This, along with the backdrop of the 2016 election, must be a galvanizing moment for our community.
District lines shouldn’t force elected officials to pick and choose who they represent from their districts, and instead must reinforce their efforts to fight for the rights of all of their constituents, regardless of their age, past criminal record, or immigration status.
Kumar is president and CEO of Voto Latino.