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Davis v. Bandemer

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Brief Fact Summary. The Supreme Court of the United States sustained Indiana’s 1981 state apportionment plan despite the claim that the apportionment diluted Democratic votes.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. Political gerrymandering cases are properly justiciable under the Equal Protection Clause. However, a threshold showing of discriminatory vote dilution is required for a prima facie case of an equal protection violation. Thus, a group’s electoral power is not unconstitutionally diminished by the simple fact that an apportionment scheme makes it harder to win elections, and a failure of proportional representation alone does not constitute impermissible discrimination under equal protection.

Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.

The plaintiffs burden is to produce evidence to support findings that the political processes leading to nomination and election were not equally open to participation by the group in question--that its members had less opportunity than did other residents in the district to participate in the political processes and to elect legislators of their choice.

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Facts. The Republican-controlled state legislature adopted Indiana’s 1981 state apportionment plan which provided for state senate and house districts of substantially equal population. The Democrats claimed that the plan diluted their votes by using a mix of single and multimembered districts and gerrymandering district lines. The District Court held that the political gerrymandering claim is justiciable and that the challengers had proved an equal protection violation. Further, the District Court held that because any apportionment scheme that purposely prevents proportional representation is unconstitutional, Democratic voters need only show that their proportionate voting influence has been adversely affected.

Issue. Whether the political gerrymandering claim is justiciable.
Whether the District Court’s legal and factual basis for its conclusion that the 1981 apportionment was unconstitutional was the correct standard. Specifically, whether its holding that because any apportionment scheme that purposely prevents proportional representation is unconstitutional, Democratic voters need only show that their proportionate voting influence has been adversely affected is the correct standard.

Held. Yes. Justice White held for the Court that the political question doctrine did not bar the Court from reaching its merits.
No. Judgment of the District Court reversed. Such a reapportionment law would not violate equal protection merely because the voters in the losing party did not have representation in the legislature in proportion to the statewide vote received by their candidates. To draw district lines to maximize the representation of each major party would require creating as many safe seats for each party as the demographic and predicted political characteristics of the state would permit. This in turn would leave the minority in each safe district without a representative of its choice. This “political fairness” approach has been previously upheld. An equal protection violation may only be found where the electoral system substantially disadvantages certain voters in their opportunity to influence the political process effectively. In this context, such a finding of unconstitutionality must be supported by evidence of continued frustration of the will of a majority of the voters or effective d
enial to a minority of voters of a fair chance to influence the political process. Here, there is no evidence to support either provision. Therefore, the Indiana’s 1981 apportionment scheme is constitutional.

Dissent. Since the essence of a gerrymandering claim is that the members of a political party have been denied their right to “fair and effective” representation, the claim cannot be tested solely by reference to “one person, one vote.” Rather, a number of other relevant factors must be considered.
Concurrence. Political gerrymandering poses a nonjusticiable question.

Discussion. This case relaxed the Court’s unwillingness to consider purely political gerrymandering as constituting a possible equal protection violation.

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