The Perennial Eclipse: Race, Immigration, and How Latinx Count in American Politics

Houston Law Review, Vol. 61, No. 4, 2024, pp. 719-54.

Texas A&M University School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper

36 Pages Posted: 2 May 2024

See all articles by Rachel F. Moran

Rachel F. Moran

Texas A&M University School of Law

Date Written: January 1, 2024

Abstract

In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Evenwel v. Abbott, a case challenging the use of total population in state legislative apportionment as a violation of the Equal Protection Clause. The plaintiffs sued Texas, alleging that the State impermissibly diluted their voting power because they lived in areas with a high proportion of voting-age citizens. When total population was used to draw district lines, the plaintiffs had to compete with more voters to get their desired electoral outcomes than was true for voters in districts with low proportions of voting-age citizens. The Court rejected the argument, finding that states enjoy the discretion to choose among different population bases, including total population.

Since the Evenwel decision, there has been ongoing interest at both the federal and state levels in using alternatives such as citizen voting-age population (CVAP) to apportion representation. So far, the lack of accurate data on citizenship status has stymied these efforts. Even so, the issues in Evenwel deserve more attention than they have received. The choice about how to count when redistricting can have significant ramifications for both partisan power and minority voices. The litigation reveals the ways in which demographic change, especially the rise of immigrant populations, has tested the efficacy of a voting rights jurisprudence that largely focuses on citizens.

After describing the lawsuit and its aftermath, this Article turns to CVAP’s potential impact on political representation. The discussion first draws on the work of law professors Joseph Fishkin and Ilya Somin, both of whom conclude that alternative forms of representation significantly mitigate the shortcomings of the formal electoral process. Professor Fishkin focuses on virtual representation of those unable to vote, while Professor Somin emphasizes foot voting to express individual preferences. This Article suggests the limits of these strategies, especially for the undocumented, and then examines the issues from the perspective of immigrant integration. While most immigrants who are legally present in the United States eventually will be eligible to cast a ballot, those without legal status remain disenfranchised no matter how long they reside in and contribute to their communities.

For that reason, it is important to address how a switch to CVAP will affect the political representation of minority communities with substantial numbers of immigrants. This Article’s concluding section shows how this change might violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act if adopted in Texas. Redrawn maps could result in voter denial if large districts in areas with high proportions of noncitizens depress minority turnout. Under a totality of the circumstances test, altered district lines would be particularly vulnerable because of Texas’s history of electoral discrimination, ongoing racial and ethnic disparities, and continuing polarization. The shift could also lead to impermissible voter dilution. Empirical data reveals that Texans remain deeply divided along both partisan and racial lines. Using CVAP instead of total population would strengthen non-Hispanic white and Republican representation while weakening Latinx and Democratic representation. Those effects would be pronounced and, therefore, should be subject to the most exacting judicial scrutiny. Otherwise, a purportedly race-neutral choice about population count could be manipulated to suppress minority voters’ influence. By considering how the exclusion of those ineligible to vote will harm the minority electorate, courts can retool and revitalize Section 2 jurisprudence to meet the challenges of a changing demography.

Keywords: Equal Protection Clause, citizen voting-age population (CVAP), redistricting, immigration, virtual representation, foot voting, immigrant integration, Voting Rights Act, discrimination, electoral participation

Suggested Citation

Moran, Rachel F., The Perennial Eclipse: Race, Immigration, and How Latinx Count in American Politics (January 1, 2024). Houston Law Review, Vol. 61, No. 4, 2024, pp. 719-54., Texas A&M University School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4811328

Rachel F. Moran (Contact Author)

Texas A&M University School of Law ( email )

1515 Commerce St.
Fort Worth, TX Tarrant County 76102
United States

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