Evenwel v. Abbott (2016)


Evenwel v. Abbott is a case considering whether the Equal Protection clauses requires state legislative districts to be reapportioned according to voter eligible population or total population. The court ruled based on Constitutional history, prior precedent and the established system that the 14th Amendment Equal Protection clause allows apportionment according to total population, not voter eligible population. 

First Timeline


The ability to create legislative districts are primarily bestowed upon states, which gives them the ability to redistrict whenever they deem redistricting necessary. Typically, redistricting is based upon the population distribution in a state. The Evenwel v. Abbott was a case that originated out of Texas, because of the issue of redistricting legislative districts in an unjust manor. Texas residents began to challenge how Texas’ government officials were redistricting districts based on including a large number of non-citizens to increase the district’s votes. Residents believed that computing non-citizens, or people who could not even vote, in the count of residents to redistrict a district was a violation of their rights. The Constitution includes an Equal Protection Clause created from Reynolds. Sims case, which instilled the one man, one vote principle. This principle dictates that states’ redistricting should only be done when needed and after a census. Texas residents felt that their Equal Protection Clause rights were being violated, which led to them challenging the state’s redistricting procedure.  

Procedural History

The case was first brought in the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas. The appellants brought suit challenging one person, one vote and named the Governor and Secretary of State of Texas. Appellants demanded a “permanent injunction barring use of” district maps based on total population and be replaced with a system based on equalizing the eligible voter population. The complaint was dismissed for lack of a claim on which relief could be granted. The District Court explained that it could issue relief for “a theory never before accepted by the Supreme Court or any circuit court.”


Does the 14th Amendment Equal Protection clause require state legislative districts to be apportioned according to the voter eligible population rather than total population?

Arguments by Petitioner

The petitioners argue that the Fourteenth Amendment should be interpreted as requiring district apportionment according to the voter eligible population. Their complaint is that the use of total population to apportion districts dilutes their political voting weight, and eligible voters are provided protection under the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the one-person, one-vote rule.

Arguments by Respondent

The respondents, Texas, argues that it may base its district map off of any population as long as it is not inherently discriminatory nor violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Texas says that it’s use of total population did not violate the constitution, but it could have used voter eligibility as well without violating the Constitution. Texas, along with the United States in an Amicus brief, maintain that using total population to define districts creates representational equality by requiring each representative to represent an equal number of constituents. The United States also urged the Supreme Court to not address Texas’ argument that it could have drawn its district map based off of alternative populations, such as the voter-eligible population.


On April 4, 2016, the Supreme Court held that the judicial precedent and state tradition to apportion legislative districts based on total population is permitted by the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. The vote was an 8-0 unanimous vote. The Courts affirmed the disposition of the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas, due to history and precedent of how States draw districts based on total population and not voter-eligible populations.  The Supreme Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment’s wording suggests that States total population should be used for their representation in the House of Representatives. Therefore, making it permissible for states to use the same method in their own legislative systems.
“Evenwel V. Abbott.” Oyez IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2016.

Majority Opinion

Justice Ginsburg delivered the opinion of the Court, which relied on history, precedent and practice for the decision.

(A) In Constitutional history, the framers had to decide how congressional districts would be allocated to the States. The Great Compromise allocated two senators to each state and a number of House Representatives based on their respective total populations. While Congress was debating the Fourteenth Amended, redistricting based on voter eligibility was raised by the Southern States who feared freed slave’s increased representation from three-fifths to one whole person. A constitutional amendment was proposed in 1865 that would have allocated seats based on voter eligibility. Supporters of this amendment argued that representation should be reserved for voters to give each voter an “equal political weight.” This amendment was not accepted well and was opposed by the idea of representational equality, taking into consideration the large population of tax paying citizens such women and children. This proposed amendment was not accepted, and the Fourteenth Amendment today reads that “Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed.”

(B) Past decisions by the Supreme Court have reinforced the one-person, one-vote principle in cases such as Reynolds v. Sims, Gray v. Sanders, Wesberry v. Sanders and Kirkpatrick v. Preisler. Gray decided that the Fourteenth Amendment required states to use the one-person, one-vote principle. Within a year of Gray, the court in Reynolds struck down Alabama’s unequal reappropriation system required that both state legislatures base their districts off of total population. The court in Wesberry confronted the issue of malapportionment and invalidated Georgia’s district map due to disparities between the populations of its districts. Kirkpatrick  reinforced this by stating that not only does total population systems prevent dilution, but also preserves citizens access to their respective representatives.

(C) Switching from a total population system to a voter eligible system would disrupt the established way of electing representatives and would have a negative impact on non-voters. The change in approaches would strip many non voters of their voice in a system that they have equal stakes in as everyone else. It undermines the idea of representational equality as well.

The Supreme Court upheld the judgment of the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas.

Concurring Opinion

Justice Samuel Alito delivered the concurring opinion which was joined by Justice Thomas except as to Part III-B. Justice Alito stated, “the question that the Court must decide in this case is whether Texas violated the “one-person, one-vote” principle established in Reynolds v. Sims 377 U. S. 533 (1964), by adopting a legislative redistricting plan that provides for districts that are roughly equal in total population.” Justice Alito specified that the cases’ precedent supports the conclusion that the use of total population is logical with the one-person, one-vote principle. Justice Alito then asserts that since the Reynolds v. Sims case, States have always used total population to create legislative districts even though some districts may be unequal ineligible voters.

Justice Alito expresses that the issue of whether or not a State can use another measure other than total population to create legislative districts is a question that should only be considered when a State actually uses another measure that is not total population.  Furthermore, stating the Court is not looking into whether or not a State can use another method besides total population to create districts, but whether or not the total population formula is supported by the Constitution. Ultimately Justice Alito maintains, “for these reasons, I would hold only that Texas permissibly used total population in drawing the challenged legislative districts. I therefore concur in the judgment of the Court.”

Full Text of Opinions


Majority Opinion (Justice Ginsburg)

Concurring Opinion (Justice Alito)

Concurring Opinion (Justice Thomas)

Constitutional Provisions

Amendment XIV

Section 1.

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Section 2.

“Representatives shall be apportioned among the several states according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each state, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the executive and judicial officers of a state, or the members of the legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such state, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such state.”

Important Precedents

Reynolds v. Sims

Gray v. Sanders

Kirkpatrick v. Preisler

Wesberry v. Sanders

Web Resources

“Evenwel V. Abbott.” Oyez IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2016. Available at: https://www.oyez.org/cases/2015/14-940

“Evenwel v. Abbott – Ballotpedia.” Evenwel v. Abbott – Ballotpedia. Web. 30 Apr. 2016. Available at: https://ballotpedia.org/Evenwel_v._Abbott

“Evenwel v. Abbott.” SCOTUSblog RSS. Web. 30 Apr. 2016. <http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/evenwel-v-abbott/>.

Academic Books, Articles, and Law Reviews

DeLong, James. “Articles: Evenwel v Abbott: A Good Day for Democracy.”Articles: Evenwel v Abbott: A Good Day for Democracy. 10 Apr. 2016. Web. 30 Apr. 2016. Available at: http://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2016/04/emevenwel_v_abbottem_a_good_day_for_democracy.html

Gans, David. “Balkinization: Counting All Persons Is the “Theory of the Constitution” When It Comes to Representation.” Balkinization: Counting All Persons Is the “Theory of the Constitution” When It Comes to Representation. 5 Apr. 2016. Web. 30 Apr. 2016. Available at: http://balkin.blogspot.com/2016/04/counting-all-persons-is-theory-of.html

Hasen, Richard L. “Conservatives Ask the SupremeCourt to Give Conservatives More Political Power.” Slate Magazine. 26 May 2015. Web. 30 Apr. 2016. Available at: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/jurisprudence/2015/05/evenwel_v_abbott_supreme_court_case_state_districts_count_voters_or_total.html.

Lithwick, Dahlia. “The Supreme Court Justices Agonize Over the Meaning of “One Person, One Vote.” Really.” Slate Magazine. 08 Dec. 2015. Web. 30 Apr. 2016. Available at: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/supreme_court_dispatches/2015/12/evenwel_v_abbott_the_supreme_court_hears_arguments_in_a_voter_apportionment.html


Spring 2016: Trenton Jackson, Destiny Williams, Everette Hemphill, Ojo Mosopefoluwa