Supreme Court unanimously rejects challenge to 'one person, one vote'

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Opinion: One Man, One Vote?

WASHINGTON, April 4 (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday endorsed the way Texas draws its legislative districts based on total population and not just eligible voters - the same method used by all 50 states - rejecting a conservative challenge in a case focusing on the legal principle of "one person, one vote."

The eight-justice court unanimously rebuffed the challenge spearheaded by a conservative legal activist that could have shifted influence in state legislative races away from urban areas that tend to be racially diverse and favor Democrats to rural ones predominantly with white voters who often back Republicans.

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Two of the court's conservatives, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, concurred only in the judgment and did sign on to the opinion authored by liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The court is one justice short following the Feb. 13 death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, but the unanimous vote suggested his presence would not have substantially affected the outcome.

The court said Texas' method of drawing districts does not violate the long-established legal principle of "one person, one vote" endorsed by the Supreme Court in the 1960s during the era of the U.S. civil rights movement.

See photos of the marches for voting rights and more:

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Obama speaks at Selma 50th anniversary 2015 - Voting Rights Act
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Supreme Court unanimously rejects challenge to 'one person, one vote'
US President Barack Obama walks alongside Amelia Boynton Robinson (R), one of the original marchers, the Reverend Al Sharpton (2nd R), First Lady Michelle Obama (L), and US Representative John Lewis (2nd-L), Democrat of Georgia, and also one of the original marchers, across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to mark the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery civil rights marches in Selma, Alabama, March 7, 2015. The event commemorates Bloody Sunday, when civil rights marchers attempting to walk to the Alabama capital of Montgomery to end voting discrimination against African Americans, clashed with police on the bridge. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama (7L), First Lady Michelle Obama (5L), former US President George W. Bush (5R), Laura Bush (6R), and US Representative John Lewis (6L), Democrat of Georgia and one of the original marchers, lead a walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to mark the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery civil rights marches in Selma, Alabama, March 7, 2015. US President Barack Obama rallied a new generation of Americans to the spirit of the civil rights struggle, warning their march for freedom 'is not yet finished.' In a forceful speech in Selma, Alabama on the 50th anniversary of the brutal repression of a peaceful protest, America's first black president denounced new attempts to restrict voting rights. AFP PHOTO/ SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama walks alongside Amelia Boynton Robinson (2nd-R), one of the original marchers, First Lady Michelle Obama (L), and US Representative John Lewis (2nd-L), Democrat of Georgia, and also one of the original marchers, across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to mark the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery civil rights marches in Selma, Alabama, March 7, 2015. The event commemorates Bloody Sunday, when civil rights marchers attempting to walk to the Alabama capital of Montgomery to end voting discrimination against African Americans, clashed with police on the bridge. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Malia Obama, left, and sister Sasha Obama laugh together as they leave a speech by their father President Barack Obama at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., on the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday," a landmark event of the civil rights movement, Saturday, March 7, 2015. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
President Barack Obama speaks by the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., Saturday, March 7, 2015, for the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday," a landmark event of the civil rights movement. This weekend marks the anniversary of "Bloody Sunday,' a civil rights march in which protestors were beaten, trampled and tear-gassed by police at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, in Selma. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
President Barack Obama speaks near the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., on the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday," a landmark event of the civil rights movement, Saturday, March 7, 2015.(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
US President Barack Obama hugs US Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia, one of the original marchers at Selma, during an event marking the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery civil rights marches at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on March 7, 2015. Obama declared Saturday on the 50th anniversary of a savagely repressed civil rights march in Selma, Alabama, that it was a global inspiration for those fighting for freedom. 'From the streets of Tunis to the Maidan in Ukraine, this generation of young people can draw strength from this place, where the powerless could change the world's greatest superpower, and push their leaders to expand the boundaries of freedom,' he said. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
People listen during take photos at the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 2015 in Selma, Alabama. US President Barack Obama marked the 50th anniversary of the Selma civil rights march on Saturday by condemning new attempts to restrict voting rights and demanding their protection be renewed. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama speaks at the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 2015 in Selma, Alabama. Obama marked the 50th anniversary of the Selma civil rights march on Saturday by condemning new attempts to restrict voting rights and demanding their protection be renewed. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A large group including US President Barack Obama cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 2015 in Selma, Alabama. Obama declared Saturday on the 50th anniversary of a savagely repressed civil rights march in Selma, Alabama, that it was a global inspiration for those fighting for freedom. 'From the streets of Tunis to the Maidan in Ukraine, this generation of young people can draw strength from this place, where the powerless could change the world's greatest superpower, and push their leaders to expand the boundaries of freedom,' he said. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
SELMA, AL - MARCH 07: (L-R) Former first lady Laura Bush, first lady Michelle Obama, U.S. president Barack Obama, U.S. Rep John Lewis (D-GA) and former U.S. president George W. Bush pray during a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights march on March 7, 2015 in Selma, Alabama. Selma is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the famed civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery that resulted in a violent confrontation with Selma police and State Troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama speaks at the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 2015 in Selma, Alabama. Obama and the first family are in Selma to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, when civil rights marchers attempting to walk to the Alabama capital of Montgomery to end voting discrimination against African Americans clashed with police. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
The Rev. Al Sharpton speaks to supporters before President Barack Obama and others take a symbolic walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Saturday, March 7, 2015, in Selma, Ala. This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday,' a civil rights march in which protestors were beaten, trampled and tear-gassed by police at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, in Selma. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
The motorcade of US President Barack Obama arrives at the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 2015 in Selma, Alabama. Obama and the first family are in Selma to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, when civil rights marchers attempting to walk to the Alabama capital of Montgomery to end voting discrimination against African Americans clashed with police. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama greet wellwishers after arriving on Air Force One at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama, March 7, 2015. The First Family is traveling to Selma, Alabama to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, when civil rights marchers attempting to walk to the Alabama capital of Montgomery to end voting discrimination against African Americans clashed with police. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Sasha Obama (L), Malia Obama (2nd L), and their grandmother, Marian Robinson (C), walk away from US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama after arriving on Air Force One at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama, March 7, 2015. The First Family is traveling to Selma, Alabama to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, when civil rights marchers attempting to walk to the Alabama capital of Montgomery to end voting discrimination against African Americans clashed with police. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
SELMA, AL - MARCH 07: People wait to hear U.S. president Barack Obama speak in front of the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 2015 in Selma, Alabama. Selma is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the famed civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery that resulted in a violent confrontation with Selma police and State Troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama gets out of an SUV as he walks to board Air Force One prior to departing from Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, March 7, 2015. The First Family is traveling to Selma, Alabama to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, when civil rights marchers attempting to walk to the Alabama capital of Montgomery to end voting discrimination against African Americans clashed with police. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Former US President George W. Bush arrives at the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 2015 in Selma, Alabama. US President Barack Obama and the first family will visit Selma to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, when civil rights marchers attempting to walk to the Alabama capital of Montgomery to end voting discrimination against African Americans clashed with police. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A member of US Secret Service's Counter Assault Team walks on the North lawn of the White House in Washington, DC before US President Barack Obama departure to Selma, Alabama on March 7, 2015. The US Secret Service locked down the White House press room Saturday after a loud noise was heard as reporters gathered to await Obama's departure for Selma, Alabama, a pool report said. The Washington fire department reported a fire at a food cart near the White House and that its units had extinguished it. It was unclear if the fire was the source of the noise. AFP PHOTO/YURI GRIPAS (Photo credit should read YURI GRIPAS/AFP/Getty Images)
Police officers block Broad Street near the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 2015 in Selma, Alabama. US President Barack Obama and the first family will visit Selma to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, when civil rights marchers attempting to walk to the Alabama capital of Montgomery to end voting discrimination against African Americans clashed with police. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
The Edmund Pettus Bridge is seen during sunset on March 6, 2015 in Selma, Alabama. The march from Selma to Montgomery, which US President Barack Obama will commemorate Saturday in the southern state of Alabama, was part of the plight to end voting discrimination against African Americans a half century ago. Obama will deliver remarks at Selma's famed Edmund Pettus Bridge, where some 600 peaceful voting rights activists were attacked as they marched on March 7, 1965, a day which became known as 'Bloody Sunday.' AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama (L) look on during an event marking the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery civil rights marches at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, March 7, 2015. US President Barack Obama rallied a new generation of Americans to the spirit of the civil rights struggle, warning their march for freedom 'is not yet finished.' In a forceful speech in Selma, Alabama on the 50th anniversary of the brutal repression of a peaceful protest, America's first black president denounced new attempts to restrict voting rights. AFP PHOTO/ SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
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Ginsburg wrote that the ruling was based on "constitutional history, the court's decisions and longstanding practice" that says states may draw legislative districts based on total population.

Adopting a new approach "would upset a well-functioning approach to districting that all 50 states and countless local jurisdictions have followed for decades, even centuries," Ginsburg wrote.

At issue in the case was whether equality of legislative representation necessitates equal numbers of all residents in voting districts regardless of whether they are eligible to vote or equal numbers of eligible voters.

The policy of counting all residents and not just those who are eligible voters boosts the electoral influence of locales, typically urban, with significant populations of people, often Hispanics, ineligible to vote, including legal and illegal immigrants as well as children.

LEGAL ACTIVIST

Two Texas voters, Sue Evenwel and Edward Pfenninger, were recruited by conservative legal activist Edward Blum to file the lawsuit. Evenwel was a member of the Texas Republican Party's executive committee and Pfenninger worked as a security guard. Both lived in rural voting districts.

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The challengers said the state Senate redistricting map signed into law by a Republican governor in 2013 failed to equally distribute voters, improperly expanding the voting power of urban areas. They asserted that the state's system violated the guarantee of equal protection under the law under the Constitution's 14th Amendment.

The dispute did not involve U.S. congressional districts. The Constitution requires seats in the U.S. House of Representatives to be distributed based on a state's total population, not just eligible voters.

The Obama administration supported the Texas plan.

Blum's group, the Project on Fair Representation, also orchestrated a lawsuit that in 2013 led the high court to invalidate a portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act mandating federal approval for election law changes in states with histories of racial discrimination.

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It also backed another important case heard by the Supreme Court in December, a white woman's challenge to a University of Texas admissions policy that considers an applicants' race among other factors in an effort to enroll more minority students. The court has not yet ruled in that case.

The case on which the court acted on Monday was Evenwel v. Abbott, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 14-940.

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