SCOTUS Evenwel v. Abbott Decision: A Bullet Dodged

A Supreme Court decision is often most notable as a bullet that was dodged, rather than a transformation that occurs. Such is the case with today’s unanimous ruling in Evenwel v. Abbott, in which the Court upheld Texas’s state legislative districts against a challenge that they violated the one person, one vote rule because they contained different numbers of eligible voters, even though they contained equal numbers of people. The decision is not a surprise, even if the unanimous ruling may have been. Evenwel was one of the most watched cases of the termin large part because a decision in the Appellants’ favor would have led to widespread litigation around the country and  a redrawing of thousands of legislative, municipal and even school board districts. The confusion of a decision in appellant’s favor would have been magnified by the fact that the census enumeration does not count eligible voters, so jurisdictions would have had to scramble to use survey results to estimate the number of eligible in each neighborhood.  (These practical concerns were the subject of the amicus brief I filed in the case.)

The court wisely decided not to destabilize an area of constitutional law that was not screaming out for innovation. The one person one vote rule is not broken and the court correctly decided not to fix it. – by Nate Persily

Nathaniel Persily is the James B. McClatchy Professor of Law at Stanford Law School. He filed an amicus brief in this case in September, 2015. He offered his reaction to Evenwel v. Abbott oral arguments in “Clearing the Brush in Today’s One-Person, One-Vote Case“. 

A constitutional law expert, Persily has served as a court-appointed expert to draw legislative districting plans for Georgia, Maryland and New York and as special master for the redistricting of Connecticut’s congressional districts. Most recently, he also served as the Senior Research Director for the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, a bipartisan commission created by the President to deal with the long lines at the polling place and other administrative problems witnessed in the 2012 election. The Report of the Commission is available at

Read about Professor Persily’s practicum, Campaign Reform, which takes a fresh look at campaign finance issues—as well as the wider implications for media and campaign communication.