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Shaw v. Reno (Shaw I)

Citation. 509 U.S. 630 (1993)
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Brief Fact Summary.

After North Carolina became entitled to a twelfth seat in the U.S House of Representatives, the General Assembly enacted a reapportionment plan that included one majority-black congressional district. It was objected and the General Assembly passed a new legislation creating a second majority-black district. Appellants allege that the plan which contains district boundary lines of dramatically irregular shape constitutes a unconstitutional racial gerrymander.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Redistricting legislation that is so bizarre on its face that it is unexplainable on grounds other than race demands strict scrutiny.


In North Carolina, the voting age population is 78% white and 20% black. The black population is relatively dispersed and constitutes a majority of the general population in only 5 of the State’s 100 counties. The General Assembly’s redistricting plan included one majority-black district located in that area. The district is somewhat hook shaped. Appellants argue that the deliberate segregation of voters into separate districts on the basis of race violates the constitutional right to participate in a color-blind electoral process.


Is the redistricting legislation that is so extremely irregular on its face that it can only be viewed as an effort to segregate the races for purposes of voting unconstitutional?


Yes, the redistricting plan is unconstitutional and the appellants‘ claim shall be upheld. The appearances of reapportionment matter. A reapportionment plan that includes in one district individuals who belong to the same race, but who are otherwise widely separated by geographical and political boundaries and who have little common with one another but the color of their skin, resembles political apartheid.


Justice White

White: Given two districts drawn on similar, race-based grounds, the one does not become more injurious than the other simply by virtue of being snake-like. By focusing on looks rather than the impact, the majority will unnecessarily hinder a State’s voluntary effort to ensure a modicum of minority representation where the minority population is geographically dispersed. State efforts to remedy minority vote dilution is wholly justifiable and remedying a Voting Rights Act violation does not involve a preferential treatment.

Stevens: Equal protection is not violated when the majority acts to facilitate the election of a member of a group that lacks such power because it remains underrepresented in the state legislature. Also, as opposed to the majority’s point, when an assumption that people in particular a minority group will vote in a particular way is used to benefit that group, no constitutional violation occurs.

Souter: Unlike the approach this Court has taken when dealing with other racial classifications, electoral districting requires some consideration of race for legitimate reasons where there is a racially mixed population. So long as members of racial groups have the commonality of interest in minority voting power, legislators will and may have to take race into account to avoid dilution of minority voting strength.


A reapportionment plan that artificially puts a same race in one area reinforces the perception that members of the same racial group think alike, share the same political interests, and will prefer the same candidates. The Court has rejected such perceptions before as impermissible racial stereotypes. A racial gerrymander may exacerbate the very patters of racial bloc voting that majority-minority districting is said to counteract. Though the legislation at issue is race-neutral on its face, it cannot be rationally understood as anything other than an effort to separate voters into different districts on the basis of race and that the separation lacks sufficient justification.

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