The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday appeared skeptical toward a conservative challenge to the method Texas uses to draw state legislative districts in a case that could diminish the clout of Hispanic voters and boost the power of rural, often Republican voters.
During oral arguments in the case, a clear majority of the nine justices did not indicate how exactly the court will rule.
The plaintiffs, Texans Sue Evenwel and Edward Pfenninger, contend that the current process for counting voters, based not on the number of eligible voters but rather on total population, violates the long-established legal principle of "one person, one vote" endorsed by the Supreme Court in the 1960s.
At issue is whether state legislative districts should contain the same number of people or whether they instead should contain the same number of eligible voters.
It was unclear how conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy, who often casts the deciding vote in close cases, would vote. Both he and conservative Chief Justice John Roberts questioned whether states could bridge the gap between using total population and the number of eligible voters when drawing districts.
The court’s liberals appeared eager to keep the existing system, with several questioning whether drawing districts based on eligible voters as the challengers argue would lead to non-voting residents getting proportionally less representation in the legislature.
Counting everyone and not just eligible voters magnifies the electoral influence of places, typically urban, with sizable populations of people ineligible to vote, including legal and illegal immigrants as well as children. Hispanic advocates say a broad win for the challengers would reduce Hispanic influence in elections and boost the power of rural, often Republican voters.
Hispanic U.S. voters tend to vote Democratic.
The challengers said the state Senate redistricting map signed into law in 2013 did not equally distribute voters, improperly inflating the voting power of urban areas. Among the people living in the urban districts are large populations of mainly Hispanic non-citizens and their children.
The plaintiffs were recruited by a conservative group that also brought a case challenging the use of racial preferences in university admissions that the Supreme Court will hear on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)