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    One Person, One Vote: Arent Fox Fights for Constitutional Protections before Supreme Court

    December 11, 2015

    In a case challenging long-standing practices in the drawing of political districts for state legislatures, Arent Fox partner Thor Hearne represented Wesley Harris and other Arizona voters in their suit against a state commission that was argued before the Supreme Court on December 8. The transcript from the oral arguments is available here and here and the audio is here.

    As reported by the Wall Street Journal, the case concerns “a constitutional principle at the heart of American democracy” as it, as well as a second suit brought by Texas voters, seeks to define the meaning of “one person, one vote.” It could also be the “greatest upheaval in legislative districts since voting-rights rulings of the 1960s.”

    Attorney Stephen Davis joined Mr. Hearne in filing briefs in Harris v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, arguing that the commission violated the Fourteenth Amendment by diluting millions of Arizonans’ votes when it redrew the state’s legislative districts.

    The independent redistricting commission said it drew the maps to comply with Voting Rights Act provisions protecting minority voters, but this also caused a deviation in populations between districts. In Arizona, minority voters have preferred Democratic candidates, and the conservative plaintiffs now allege that their rights have been compromised. “The Voting Rights Act does not command, does not compel or require, underpopulated districts to obtain preclearance,” Mr. Hearne told the Supreme Court. “That justification, even if it was had in good faith, does not excuse a constitutional violation of one person, one vote.”

    A core issue in the case, reported the Associated Press, is whether the population differences among districts resulted from an attempt at Democratic partisan advantage by aggregating Republicans into conservative-leaning districts or compliance with the Voting Rights Act. Mr. Hearne argued that any action based on partisan ideology means there was an “illegitimate purpose.” Whether the redrawing of the districts successfully assisted Democrats in Arizona elections is a non-issue. “An incompetent gerrymander is no less a gerrymander when it unequally apportions the population,” Thor said in response to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

    Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, also arguing for the prosecution, emphasized this point, saying that the “intentional and systematic” manipulation of voting districts is what undermines the core constitutional principle at play in this case.

    The Supreme Court’s decision in this case is expected by the end of June.

    To read Hans von Spakovsky's commentary on the case, click here.