NewYorkUniversity
LawReview

Issues

Author

J. Colin Bradley

Results

The Continued Relevance of the Equal Access Theory of Apportionment

J. Colin Bradley

The one person one vote doctrine contains a core ambiguity: Do states need to equalize the voting strength of voters in each district? Or do they need to equalize the total number of people in each district? This difference matters when demographic trends lead to large numbers of noncitizens living in some districts but not others. When that happens, equalizing the total population across districts leads to large differences in the number of voters in each district and differences in the voting power of voters across districts. In 1990 the Ninth Circuit held in Garza v. County of Los Angeles that the First and Fourteenth Amendments together require states to equalize the total population across districts, no matter the distribution of noncitizens and other ineligible voters. But that approach has not caught on, and recently the Supreme Court signaled that it thinks the Garza approach is inconsistent with the leading Supreme Court precedent of Burns v. Richardson, which allowed Hawaii to equalize the number of registered voters rather than the total population across districts. This Essay provides a reading of Burns according to which it holds that the goal of apportionment is to fairly distribute representatives across the to-be-represented population—the group of more or less permanent residents who belong to the political community—and that sometimes the total population reported in the Federal Census is an inaccurate measure of this. Thus, Burns should not stand as an obstacle to a modern acceptance of the Garza approach if the Court is forced to revisit these issues after the 2021 redistricting of state legislatures.