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Alabama redistricting likely to arise

The Birmingham News Associated Press
January 08, 2006

WASHINGTON - A landmark decision from 1964 on drawing political boundaries in Alabama is likely to be an issue during this week's confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito Jr.

The 41-year-old ruling in Reynolds v. Sims established the principle of "one man, one vote" by ordering Alabama 's legislative districts nearly equal in population. The decision ended the political advantage of sparsely populated rural areas over more populated urban areas, a situation that evolved over the 60 years when the district lines were not adjusted for population changes.

"A citizen, a qualified voter, is no more nor no less so because he lives in the city or on the farm," Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote in the majority opinion.

But how Alito feels about that decision has been the subject of debate in Washington in recent weeks. President Bush nominated Alito to the court to replace the retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, and the Senate Judiciary Committee begins his confirmation hearings Monday.

In a 1985 job application to the U.S. Department of Justice under then-President Ronald Reagan, Alito wrote that he was drawn to constitutional law in part by his disagreement with the reapportionment decisions of the Warren Court. The statement has drawn criticism from civil rights and voting rights activists who believe it is a sign that a Justice Alito could be unfriendly to their causes.

"Recognizing the concept of `one person, one vote,' the court enshrined the principle that every citizen has the right to an equally effective vote, rather than the right to simply cast a ballot," according to a written review of the Warren Court 's reapportionment decisions by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. "Judge Alito's strong disagreement with some if not all of these pivotal rulings is extremely troubling."

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., suggested the issue could be more contentious than Alito's views on the right to privacy.

"But even more serious, for many people - many people - is the fact that he opposed the one person, one vote. So there's civil rights issues here," she told Fox News Sunday last month.

Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., said earlier on the same program that if Alito testifies that he disagrees with the reapportionment decisions, Biden and others will be "willing to do whatever they can to keep him off the court. We don't know that. We have to hear it."

Others say all the concern is unwarranted. Alito was reported to have told members of the Senate in private meetings that he believes "one man, one vote" is a bedrock principle of constitutional law.

The Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania , said he asked Alito about reapportionment in December.

"He thinks that one man, one vote is very deeply embedded - is really a principle which is settled and beyond attack," Specter told reporters.

An organization that backs Bush's judicial nominees, The Committee for Justice, argues that Alito's views on the reapportionment cases could be related to court's rigid demands that the districts be close to exactly equal in population.

Alito's criticism may be that the court stretched the "one man, one vote" principle "in ways that defy common sense and prevent elected representatives from drawing voting districts in ways that best reflect geography and normal political boundaries," according to the committee's report on Alito.

Senators are expected to press Alito for a clear answer on the issue when questioning begins Tuesday.