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One Person One Vote

Sidley Amicus Brief Helps Achieve Unanimous Upholding of “One-Person, One-Vote” in Supreme Court Decision Recognizing the Interests of Children


Lawyers at Sidley submitted an amicus brief that helped persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to unanimously uphold the “one person, one-vote” principle that allows states to draw their legislative districts using total population rather than limiting apportionment to eligible voters. The Court ruled 8-0 on April 4, 2016, that a state or locality can use total population counts for redistricting purposes. 

“Appellants have shown no reason for the Court to disturb this longstanding use of total population,” said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who penned the Court’s majority opinion in Evenwel vs. Abbott, brought by two Texas voters who argued that using total population rather than citizen voting age population to draw districts diluted their voting power.

The firm represented the Children’s Defense Fund and its affiliates, the Fair Elections Legal Network, the Union of Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis as amici curiae in support of the appellees in the pro bono case. 

The firm argued in its brief that using total population is necessary to protect the interests of children—the largest segment of the population ineligible to vote. By using citizen voting age population to draw district lines, rather than total population, states would undermine the interest of children and their families in representation and policy issues such as education, and ignore the substantial number of underage citizens who will age into the voting population. 

“Speaking on behalf of children was necessary because so much of the attention—from the press to the public discourse—was focused on immigration and illegal immigrants,” said David R. Carpenter, a litigation partner in the firm’s Supreme Court and Appellate practice and lead writer on the brief. “No one was talking about children and how they play into population dynamics.” 

In its opinion, the Court explicitly acknowledged many of the arguments made in Sidley’s brief. “Nonvoters have an important stake in many policy debates—children, their parents, even their grandparents, for example, have a stake in a strong public-education system—and in receiving constituent services, such as help navigating public-benefits bureaucracies,” Justice Ginsburg wrote.

It was a great opportunity to look at a high-profile case with a different point of view, said Carpenter. “When you are thinking about taking on an amicus brief for the Court, the number one goal should always be to bring a unique perspective to the case—what can be added that isn’t being covered by the parties arguing on the merits. If you aren’t doing that, you are sort of just another one of the crowd,” he said. 

The multi-office pro bono team also included Jose Sanchez, Cory Szczepanik and Becky Troth.