People, Not Trees, Dammit!
Yesterday was the triple crown of excitement.
March madness officially ended with Villanova's defeat of North Carolina. My preferred teams lost a long time ago (picked Kansas to win it, as I always do and was yet again disappointed, as I always* am) so I was cheering for Carolina on a defacto basis, as my folks lived there right before I was born and I do love dynasty teams. That said, I am glad for Villanova and they certainly earned the national title.
It was Opening Day for Baseball! And, even more exciting, the Reds actually won! Last season was rough to say the least and while beating the Phillies isn't exactly a mandate that all the new changes in the team are definitely going to take us to the World Series, it is still a great start to the season. Now, if we can just keep that up...
Last but certainly not least, the Supreme Court began handing down one of a number of rulings on interesting cases they have been considering this session. With Justice Antonin Scalia's passing in February, the Court's 8-person composition allows for ties and the ideological balance virtually ensures it in the most salient issues. Yet in a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court upheld the "One Person, One Vote" clause that has defined districting since the US Constitution's inception with some latitude. What constituted a "person" has varied, as slaves were originally designated as 3/5ths of a human being to allow Southern slaveholders the benefits of population distribution that result in proportion of Congressional seats without actually having to provide slaves with civil rights that full 5/5ths people are guaranteed (gross, I know).
The challenge to the "One Person, One Vote" concept came to the Supreme Court this year in Evenwel v. Abbott (2016) in which two Texas voters challenged the notion because they claimed their votes were worth proportionately less than other voters who were in districts with many ineligible voters. (For additional reading on the ruling, I recommend these explanations from The New York Times and The Washington Post). Since districts are apportioned based on total population, not total voter registration, there could be some districts with larger percentages of people who cannot actually vote and thus those who can comprise a larger deviden of the overall vote share.
The Supreme Court roundly disagreed and disregarded the challenge. Ruth Bader Ginsberg (a.k.a. the Notorious RBG) wrote the majority opinion that was also signed by Roberts, Kennedy, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Thomas and Alito wrote a separate, concurring opinion. Ginsberg wrote that adopting a new system would disrupt the "well-functioning approach to districting" that the states currently implement before adding that the Founding Fathers intended for our representatives to represent all of the people, not just some of them who vote. In the concurring opinion, Thomas mentioned that Constitution does not explicitly state districting guidelines and thus it should be left up to the people/states to determine.
Regardless of the rationale, arguably the most important decision the Court will issue on voting rights this session came down in favor of the people, those who can and do vote and also those who cannot. To paraphrase from one of my favorite Supreme Court decisions, Baker v. Carr (1962), the districts should incorporate the same number of voters, not trees, because the uneven population distribution patterns within our nation should not dictate the proportion of representation to which an individual is entitled. It is "people not trees" dammit, and to be clear, we do mean "people" not just some people, but all people.
* Kansas won in 2008 which was absolutely amazing...but has not happened since. :-/