The Pennsylvania General Assembly drew a new districting map for Congressional representation.
Political gerrymandering claims are not justiciable as violations of Article I, § 2, Article I, § 4, or the Equal Protection Clause.
The Republican-majority Pennsylvania General Assembly drew a new districting map based on figures from the 2000 census. The plaintiffs alleged that the districts were meandering, irregular, and ignored traditional redistricting criteria.
Are political gerrymandering claims justiciable as violations of Article I, § 2, Article I, § 4, or the Equal Protection Clause?
No, political gerrymandering claims are not justiciable as violations of Article I, § 2, Article I, § 4, or the Equal Protection Clause.
Justice Stevens argued that political gerrymandering cases are justiciable, because government decisions must be legitimate and neutral in order to have a rational basis under the Equal Protection Clause, and purely partisan motives do not satisfy those requirements.
Justice Souter proposed a five-part test for political gerrymandering cases: (1) the plaintiff must identify a cohesive political group to which they belonged; (2) the plaintiff must show that their district did not heed traditional districting principles; (3) the plaintiff must show correlations between the district’s deviations from traditional districting principles and the distribution of the population of their political group; (4) the plaintiff must show a hypothetical alternative district that was not as politically gerrymandered, and deviated less from traditional districting principles, and; (5) the plaintiff must show that the defendants intended to manipulate the district to politically gerrymander it.
Justice Breyer argued that, in at least one circumstance, purely political districting factors can amount to a remediable abuse: the unjustified use of political factors to entrench a minority in power.
Justice Kennedy argued that, while political gerrymandering cases are not justiciable under the Equal Protection Clause, they could be under the First Amendment.
According to the Supreme Court, Congress has the power to restrain political gerrymandering by state legislatures under Article 1, § 4. The Supreme Court decided in Davis v. Bandemer that political gerrymandering claims are justiciable, but the Court could not agree on a standard to analyze them with in that opinion. In Baker v. Carr, the Supreme Court established six tests to determine if a political question exists. One of the Baker tests was the lack of judicially discoverable and manageable standards. According to the Supreme Court in this opinion (Vieth), the issue in this case was a nonjudicial political question under this test, because there were no judicially discernable and manageable standards for resolving it.
The Supreme Court rejected the standard proposed by Justice White’s plurality opinion in Bandemer. Under that standard, a political gerrymandering case could succeed only if the plaintiff showed intentional discrimination against an identifiable political group and an actual discriminatory effect on that group. The Supreme Court held that it would be too difficult to satisfy the effects requirement of that standard. The Supreme Court also rejected the standard proposed by the plaintiffs in this case, which was based on Article I, § 2 and the Equal Protection Clause. Under that standard, plaintiffs would have to show intent by showing that the legislators acted with predominant intent to achieve partisan advantage by evidence that other redistricting criteria were subordinated. The Supreme Court held that this test might work for racial gerrymandering, which is unlawful, but not partisan gerrymandering, which the Constitution addresses as a political issue in Article I, § 4. The Court also rejected the plaintiffs’ proposed effects prong, which was based on Voting Rights Act jurisprudence, because political affiliation is not an immutable characteristic, while race is. Even if political affiliation was discernable, the Supreme Court held that it would only invalidate districting that prevents a majority of the electorate from electing a majority of representatives, which is not a constitutional violation.
This holding overruled Bandemer.