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Davis v. Bandemer

Citation. 478 U.S. 109, 106 S.Ct. 2797, 92 L.Ed.2d 85 (1986).
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Brief Fact Summary.

A group of Democrats challenged Indiana’s 1981 state apportionment scheme on the ground that it constituted a political gerrymander.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Claims of partisan gerrymandering are justiciable.


A group of Democrats challenged Indiana’s 1981 state apportionment scheme on the ground that it constituted a political gerrymander intended to disadvantage Democrats on a statewide basis. Specifically, the group argued that the apportionment unconstitutionally diluted their votes in important districts, violating their fundamental right to vote.


Did Indiana’s 1981 state apportionment violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?


No, Indiana’s 1981 state apportionment did not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.


Justice Powell

The Equal Protection Clause guarantees citizens that their state will govern them impartially. Accordingly, this requires that district lines be determined in accordance with neutral and legitimate criteria. The most basic flaw in the Court’s opinion is its failure to enunciate any standard that affords guidance to legislatures and courts. The Court’s decision thus invites further litigation and even appears to signal the “constitutional green light” to would-be gerrymanderers.


Justice O’Connor

The Equal Protection Clause does not supply judicially manageable standards for resolving purely political gerrymandering claims, and no group right to an equal share of political power was ever intended by the Framers.


Although the apportionment law may have had a discriminatory effect on the Democrats, it was not “sufficiently adverse” to violate the Equal Protection Clause. Where vote dilution is alleged in the form of statewide political gerrymandering, lack of proportional representation is not necessarily an unconstitutional violation of the Democrats’ electoral power. Rather, unconstitutional discrimination occurs only when the electoral system is arranged in a manner that will consistently degrade a voter’s or group of voters’ influence on the political process as a whole. Such a finding of unconstitutionality must be supported by evidence of continued frustration of the will of a majority of the voters or effective denial to a minority of voters of a fair chance to influence the political process. As such, this Court rejects the district court’s holding that any interference with an opportunity to elect a representative of one’s choice would be sufficient to allege an equal protection violation – such a low threshold for legal action would invite attack on all or almost all reapportionment statutes.

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