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Davis v. Bandemer

Citation. 478 U.S. 109, 106 S. Ct. 2797, 92 L. Ed. 2d 85, 1986 U.S. 122.
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Brief Fact Summary.

The Republican controlled Indiana legislature designed an apportionment scheme that resulted in the Democrats’ voting strength being understated in terms of the number of seats in the legislature Democrats won. The Democrats sued.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

In order to make out a case for unconstitutional apportionment, a plaintiff must show intentional discrimination on the part of the defendant against an identifiable political group and actual discriminatory effect on the same group.


The Republican controlled Indiana State legislature in 1981 adopted an apportionment plan (the “Plan”), which provided for State representative electoral districts of substantially equal population. Appellees, the Democrats (Appellees), nonetheless, claimed that the Republicans had adopted a scheme that would substantially understate Democratic voting strength. Under the Plan, in 1982, Appellees received 51.9 percent of the vote, but won only 43 percent of the 100 House seats and 13 of 25 Senate seats. At trial, the District Court held that the Appellees needed only to show that their proportionate voting influence had been adversely affected.


Did the Appellees make a sufficient showing to establish the Plan as an unconstitutional infringement of equal protection?


No. The findings made by the District Court on the adverse effects on the Appellees do not satisfy the threshold requirement.
Justice Byron White (J. White) said that while it is true that proof by Democrats that an apportionment plan drafted by Republicans had an actual discriminatory effect on Democrats would support a finding that the discrimination was intentional (thus satisfying both prongs of the rule), the Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) did not accept the conclusion of the District Court that discriminatory effects were proven by the Democrats here.
The United States Constitution (Constitution) does not require proportional representation or that legislatures reapportion by allocating seats, as near as possible, to the contending parties in proportion to what their anticipated statewide votes will be.
For example, if most of the districts in which the anticipated split between Democrats and Republicans are competitive, e.g., the 45% to 55% range, even a narrow statewide preference for either candidate would produce an overwhelming majority for the winning party. This result cannot be said to violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.


Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (J. O’Connor) stated that political gerrymandering cases such as this one pose nonjusticiable questions.
Justice Lewis Powell said this opinion rests on the ground that the legislature acted consistently with the “one-person, one-vote” principle. But since the essence of political gerrymandering claims is that members of a political party, as a group, have been denied their right to fair and effective representation, he believed that this claim could not be resolved solely by resort to the “one-person, one vote” theory.


The Supreme Court seems to apply the same test, but require a lower threshold showing to establish a violation of the Equal Protection Clause in this “voter dilution” case, involving a charge of discrimination against a political party by an opposing party, than it did in City of Mobile v. Bolden, a voter-dilution case involving a charge of discrimination on the basis of race. In this case, the Supreme Court seems to apply the line of reasoning advanced by Justice John Paul Stevens (J. Stevens) in his concurring opinion in Washington v. Davis where J. Stevens wrote “[f]requently the most probative evidence of intent will be objective evidence of what actually happened rather than evidence describing the subjective state of mind of the actor.”

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