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Gaffney v Cummings Created:25-Apr-2022


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[NOTE: This is a longer excerpt from SCOTUS Majority Opinion in Gaffney v. Cummings (1973). Justice White wrote the Opinion, in which he clearly states true reasons for the Court's activist demands for the States to perform redistricting to requirements outside the scope of the federal Government's authority. It is quite clear that there is an agenda intended to obfuscate and circumvent the States' authority to determine how they will choose the representatives to the U.S. House of Representatives and the state legislatures. Justice White lays-out the democratic principles the Court is imposing to pretend it is demanding legitimate criteria be met.]


State legislative districts may be equal or substantially equal in population and still be vulnerable under the Fourteenth Amendment. A districting statute, otherwise acceptable, may be invalid because it fences out a racial group so as to deprive them of their preexisting municipal vote. Gomillion v. Lightfoot, 364 U. S. 339 (1960). A districting plan may create multi-member districts perfectly acceptable under equal population standards, but invidiously discriminatory because they are employed "to minimize or cancel out the voting strength of racial or political elements of the voting population." Fortson v. Dorsey, 379 U. S. 433, 379 U. S. 439 (1965). See White v. Regester, post, p. 412 U. S. 755; Whitcomb v. Chavis, 403 U. S. 124 (1971); Abate v. Mundt, 403 U.S. at 403 U. S. 184 n. 2; Burns v. Richardson, 384 U.S. at 384 U. S. 88-89. We must, therefore, respond to appellees' claims in this case

Page 412 U. S. 752

that, even if acceptable population-wise, the Apportionment Board's plan was invidiously discriminatory because a "political fairness principle" was followed in making up the districts in both the House and Senate.

The record abounds with evidence, and it is frankly admitted by those who prepared the plan, that virtually every Senate and House district line was drawn with the conscious intent to create a districting plan that would achieve a rough approximation of the state-wide political strengths of the Democratic and Republican Parties, the only two parties in the State large enough to elect legislators from discernible geographic areas. Appellant insists that the spirit of "political fairness" underlying this plan is not only permissible, but a desirable consideration in laying out districts that otherwise satisfy the population standard of the reapportionment cases. Appellees, on the other hand, label the plan as nothing less than a gigantic political gerrymander, invidiously discriminatory under the Fourteenth Amendment. [Footnote 18]

We are quite unconvinced that the reapportionment plan offered by the three-member Board violated the Fourteenth Amendment because it attempted to reflect the relative strength of the parties in locating and defining election districts. It would be idle, we think, to contend that any political consideration taken into account in fashioning a reapportionment plan is sufficient to invalidate it. Our cases indicate quite the contrary.

Page 412 U. S. 753

See White v. Regester, supra; Burns v. Richardson, supra; Whitcomb v. Chavis, supra; Abate v. Mundt, supra. The very essence of districting is to produce a different -- a more "politically fair" -- result than would be reached with elections at large, in which the winning party would take 100% of the legislative seats. Politics and political considerations are inseparable from districting and apportionment. The political profile of a State, its party registration, and voting records are available precinct by precinct, ward by ward. These subdivisions may not be identical with census tracts, but, when overlaid on a census map, it requires no special genius to recognize the political consequences of drawing a district line along one street rather than another. It is not only obvious, but absolutely unavoidable, that the location and shape of districts may well determine the political complexion of the area. District lines are rarely neutral phenomena. They can well determine what district will be predominantly Democratic or predominantly Republican, or make a close race likely. Redistricting may pit incumbents against one another or make very difficult the election of the most experienced legislator. The reality is that districting inevitably has and is intended to have substantial political consequences.

It may be suggested that those who redistrict and reapportion should work with census, not political, data, and achieve population equality without regard for political impact. But this politically mindless approach may produce, whether intended or not, the most grossly gerrymandered results; and, in any event, it is most unlikely that the political impact of such a plan would remain undiscovered by the time it was proposed or adopted, in which event the results would be both known and, if not changed, intended.

It is much more plausible to assume that those who redistrict and reapportion work with both political and

Page 412 U. S. 754

census data. Within the limits of the population equality standards of the Equal Protection Clause, they seek, through compromise or otherwise, to achieve the political or other ends of the State, its constituents, and its officeholders. What is done in so arranging for elections, or to achieve political ends or allocate political power, is not wholly exempt from judicial scrutiny under the Fourteenth Amendment. As we have indicated, for example, multi-member districts may be vulnerable, if racial or political groups have been fenced out of the political process and their voting strength invidiously minimized. See White v. Regester, supra; Whitcomb v. Chavis, supra. See also Gomillion v. Lightfoot, supra. Beyond this, we have not ventured far or attempted the impossible task of extirpating politics from what are the essentially political processes of the sovereign States. Even more plainly, judicial interest should be at its lowest ebb when a State purports fairly to allocate political power to the parties in accordance with their voting strength and, within quite tolerable limits, succeeds in doing so. There is no doubt that there may be other reapportionment plans for Connecticut that would have different political consequences, and that would also be constitutional. Perhaps any of appellees' plans would have fallen into this category, as would the court's, had it propounded one. But neither we nor the district courts have a constitutional warrant to invalidate a state plan, otherwise within tolerable population limits, because it undertakes not to minimize or eliminate the political strength of any group or party, but to recognize it and, through districting, provide a rough sort of proportional representation in the legislative halls of the State.


[For dissenting opinion of MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN, see post, p. 412 U. S. 772.]

Gaffney v. Cummings/Brennan

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