WASHINGTON -- Excerpts from Monday's Supreme Court ruling in Davis vs. Bandemer that political gerrymandering can be proven unconstitutional in court. --- Justice Byron White for the plurality
'We ... agree with the district court that in order to succeed, the Bandemer plaintiffs were required to prove both intentional discrimination against an identifiable political group and an actual discriminatory effect on that group. Further, we are confident that if the law challenged here had discriminatory effect on Democrats, this record would support a finding that the discrimination was intentional.
'We do not accept, however, the district court's legal and factual bases for concluding that the 1981 act visited a sufficient adverse effect on the (Democrats') constitutionally protected rights to make out a violation of the Equal Protection Clause. The district court held that because any apportionment scheme that purposely prevents proportional representation is unconstitutional, Democratic voters need only show that their proportionate voting influence has been adversely affected. Our cases, however, clearly foreclose any claim that the Constitution requires proportional representation...
'Rather, unconstitutional discrimination occurs only when the electoral system is arranged in a manner that will consistently degrade a voter's or a group of voters' influence on the political process as a whole.
'In this context, such a finding of unconstitutionality must be supported by evidence of continued frustration of the will of a majority of the voters or effective denial to a minority of voters of a fair chance to influence the political process.
'Relying on a single election to prove unconstitutional discrimination is unsatisfactory. The district court observed, and the parties do not disagree, that Indiana is a swing state. Voters sometimes prefer Democratic candidates and sometimes Republican. The district court did not find that because of the 1981 act the Democrats could not in one of the next few elections secure a sufficient vote to take control of that assembly.
'Nor was there any finding that the 1981 reapportionment would consign the Democrats to a minority status in the assembly throughout the 1980s or that the Democrats would have no hope of doing any better in the reapportionment that would occur after the 1990 census.
'Specifically, even if a state legislature redistricts with the specific intention of disadvantaging one political party's election prospects, we do not believe that there has been an unconstitutional discrimination against members of that party unless the redistricting does in fact disadvantage it at the polls.
'In sum, we hold that political gerrymandering cases are properly justiciable under the Equal Protection Claue. We also conclude, however, that a threshold showing of discriminatory vote dilution is required for a prima facie case of an equal protection violation.' --- Justice Sandra Day O'Connor concurring in the judgment
'Today the court holds that claims of political gerrymandering lodged by members of one of the political parties that make up our two-party system are justiciable under the Equal Protection Clause. Nothing in our precedent compels us to take this step, and there is every reason not to do so. I would hold that the partisan gerrymandering claims of major political parties raise a non-justiciable political question that the judiciary should leave to the legislative branch as the Framers of the Constitution unquestionably intended.
'The step taken today is a momentous one, which if followed in the future can only lead to political instability and judicial malaise. If members of the major political parties are protected by the Equal Protection Clause from dilution of their voting strength, then members of every identifiable group that possesses distinctive interests and tends to vote on the basis of those interests should be able to bring similar claims.
'The court's holding that political gerrymandering claims are justiciable has opened the door to pervasive and unwarranted judicial superintendence of the legislative task of apportionment.'
Chief Justice Warren Burger concurring in the judgment
'It is not surprising that citizens who are troubled by gerrymandering turn first to the courts for redress. De Tocqueville, that perceptive commentator on our country, observed that 'scarcely any question arises in the United States which does not become, sooner or later, a subject of judicial debate.' What I question is the court's urge to craft a judicial remedy for this perceived injustice. In my view, the Framers of the Constitution envisioned quite a different scheme. They placed responsibility for correction of such flaws in the people, relying on them to influence their elected representatives.' --- Justice Lewis Powell dissenting
'The plurality expresses the view, with which I agree, that a partisan political gerrymander violates the Equal Protection Clause only onproof of 'both intentional discrimination against an identifiable political group and an actual discriminatory effect on that group.
'Because the plurality ... fails to enunciate standards by which to determine whether a legislature has enacted an unconstitutional gerrymander, I dissent.
'Legislators and judges are left to wonder whether compliance with 'one-person, one-vote' completely insulates a partisan gerrymander from constitutional scrutiny or whether a fairer but as yet undefined standard applies. The failure to articulate clear doctrine in this area places the plurality in the curious position of inviting further litigation even as it appears to signal the constitutional 'green light' to would-be gerrymanderers.
'In this case, (the Democrats) offered convincing proof of the ease with which mapmakers, consistent with the one-person, one-vote standard, may design a districting plan that purposefully discriminates against political opponents as well as racial minorities. Computer technology now enables gerrymanderers to achieve their purpose while adhering perfectly to the requirement that districts be of equal population.
'Federal courts in exercising their duty to adjudicate such claims should impose a heavy burden of proof on those who allege that a redistricting plan violates the Constitution. ... This case presents a paradigm example of unconstitutional discrimination against the members of a political party that happen to be out of power.'