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Shaw v. Reno [Shaw I]

    Brief Fact Summary. The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) held that the Appellants, Shaw and others (Appellants), have a legitimate claim that North Carolina’s redistricting scheme was so irregular on its face that it could only be viewed as an effort to segregate races for the purposes of voting, without regard for traditional districting principles and without sufficiently compelling justification.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The deliberate segregation of voters into separate districts on the basis of race violates their constitutional right to participate in a “color-blind” electoral process.

    Facts. As a result of the 1990 census, North Carolina became entitled to a twelfth seat in the United States House of Representatives. The North Carolina General Assembly (General Assembly) enacted a reapportionment plan that included one majority-black congressional district. After the Attorney General of the United States objected to the plan pursuant to Section:5 of the Voting Rights Act, the General Assembly passed new legislation creating a second majority-black district. The Appellants allege that the revised plan, which contains district boundary lines of dramatically irregular shape, constitutes an unconstitutional gerrymander.

    Issue. Whether the Appellants have stated an equal protection claim by alleging that the General Assembly adopted a reapportionment plan so irrational on its face that it can only be viewed as an effort to segregate races for the purposes of voting, without regard for traditional districting principles and without sufficiently compelling justification?

    Held. Yes. Judgment reversed and remanded for further proceedings. Redistricting differs from other kinds of state decision-making in that the legislature always is aware of race when it draws district lines. That sort of race consciousness does not lead inevitably to impermissible race discrimination. A reapportionment plan that includes in one district individuals who belong to the same race, but who are otherwise widely separated by geographical and political boundaries and who have little in common with one another, but the color of their skin, bears an uncomfortable resemblance of political apartheid. By perpetuating such notions, a racial gerrymander may exacerbate the very patterns of racial block voting that majority-minority districting is sometimes said to counteract. When a district is created solely to effectuate the perceived common interests of one racial group, the elected officials are more likely to believe that their primary obligation is to represent only the members of that group, rather then their constituency as a whole. Thus, a plaintiff challenging a reapportionment statute under equal protection may state a claim by alleging that legislation, though neutral on its face, rationally cannot be understood as anything other than an effort to separate voters on the basis of race, and that the separation lacks sufficient justification. That racial block voting or minority political cohesion may be found to exist in some cases, is no reason to treat racial gerrymanders differently from other types of racial classifications. Thus, if Appellant’s allegations of a racial gerrymander are not contradicted on remand, the District Court must determine whether the reapportionment plan satisfies strict scrutiny. Appellants have stated a claim under equal protection by alleging that the General Assembly adopted a reapportionment plan so irrational on its face that it can only be viewed as an effort to segregate races for the purposes of voting, without regard for traditional districting principles and without sufficiently compelling justification.

    Dissent. Appellants have not presented a cognizable claim because they have not alleged a cognizable injury.
    Appellants have not presented a cognizable claim because they have not alleged a cognizable injury. The case in which the majority chooses to abandon settled law and recognize for the first time this “analytically distinct” constitutional claim, is a challenge by white voters to the plan under which North Carolina has sent black representatives to Congress for the first time since Reconstruction.
    Appellants have not presented a cognizable claim because they have not alleged a cognizable injury. However, the shape of the second district is so bizarre that it must have been drawn for the purpose of advantaging or disadvantaging a cognizable group of voters. Additionally, regardless of that shape, it was drawn for the purposes of facilitating the election of black representatives from North Carolina.
    Exacting scrutiny of racial gerrymanders under the Fourteenth Amendment is inappropriate because reapportionment “nearly always requires some consideration of race for legitimate reasons.” The racial gerrymandering here is a “benign” racial discrimination that should have relaxed judicial review.

    Discussion. This case involved two of the most complex and sensitive issues the Court has faced in recent years: the meaning of the constitutional “right” to vote and the propriety of race-based state legislation designed to benefit members of historically disadvantaged minority groups.


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