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Karcher v. Daggett

    Brief Fact Summary. A New Jersey reapportionment plan destroyed population equality

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Apportionment schemes that result in inequity among populations violates Article I, Section 2 of the United States Constitution (Constitution).

    Facts. The New Jersey Legislature adopted the Feldman Plan containing 14 districts. The New Jersey Legislature created a reapportionment scheme, which resulted in a one percent population difference between the largest and the smallest districts. A group of individuals challenged the legislation arguing that it violated Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution. The District Court declared the reapportionment scheme unconstitutional.

    Issue. Whether an apportionment plan for congressional districts satisfies the Constitution if the population for the largest district is less than one percent greater than the population of the smallest district.

    Held. (J. Brennan). Yes. “Article I, Section 2 establishes a ‘high standard of justice and common sense’ for the apportionment of congressional districts: ‘equal representation for equal numbers of people.’” “Given that the census-based population deviations in the Feldman Plan reflect real differences among the districts, it is clear that they could have been avoided or significantly reduced with a good-faith effort to achieve population equality. For that reason alone, it would be inappropriate to accept the Feldman Plan as “functionally equivalent” to a plan with districts of equal population. The judgment is affirmed.

    Dissent. The dissenting opinions are as follows:
    Justice Byron White (J. White). The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) is unreasonable in its “insistence on an unattainable perfection in the equalizing of congressional districts . . .and if the Court is convinced that our cases demand the result reach . . ., the time has arrived to reconsider these precedents.”
    Justice Lewis Powell (J. Powell). “[T]he Constitution – a vital and living character after nearly two centuries because of the wise flexibility of its key provisions – could be read to require a rule of mathematical exactitude in legislative reapportionment.” But, such mathematical rigidity may lead to “partisan gerrymandering” that results in discrimination.
    Concurrence. Justice John Paul Stevens (J. Stevens). “[T]he judicial preoccupation with the goal of perfect population equality is an inadequate method of judging the constitutionality of an apportionment plan.”

    Discussion. This case supports the notion that each vote in a congressional election must be equally weighted.


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