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 plaintiffs burden is to produce evidence to support findings that the political processes leading to nomination and election were not equally open to participation by the group in question--that its members had less opportunity than did other residents in the district to participate in the political processes and to elect legislators of their choice.View Full Point of Law
Issue. Did the Appellees make a sufficient showing to establish the Plan as an unconstitutional infringement of equal protection?
Held. 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.
Dissent. 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.
Discussion. 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.”