Legislature House of Representatives House Research Elections & Redistricting
Key Redistricting Cases
The following is a brief description of key decisions made by the U.S.
Supreme Court regarding redistricting.
|One vote for one person
Gray v. Sanders [372 U.S. 368]
"one person, one vote." Equal voting power is required under the U.S. Constitution.
|Congressional districts must be equal in population
Wesberry v. Sanders [376 U.S. 1]
Congressional districts must be as equal in population "as practicable."
"While it may not be possible to draw congressional districts with mathematical
precision, that is no excuse for ignoring our Constitution's plain objective of
making equal representation for equal numbers of people the fundamental goal for
the House of Representatives."
|Legislative districts must be substantially equal
|| Reynolds v. Sims [377 U.S. 533]
Legislative districts must be "substantially equal" in
population. "Mathematical nicety is not a constitutional requisite."
|Legislative districts must not vary more than 10 percent from ideal size
Gaffney v. Cummings [412 U.S. 772]
Legislative districts must not have a total variation of more than 10
percent of the ideal size, measured from the smallest to the largest. A
larger variation is permitted only if necessary based upon a "rational state
policy," but that standard is tough to meet.
|Congressional districts must be as equal as
Karcher v. Daggett [462 U.S. 725]
Except in very limited circumstances, congressional districts must be as equal as possible. Inequality is
permitted only if necessary to fulfill a
"legitimate state objective," which is a tough standard to meet.
|What is a violation of
the Federal Voting Rights Act?
Thornburg v. Gingles (Gingles is pronounced "Jingles")
[478 U.S. 30]
To prove a violation of section 2 of the federal voting rights act, a minority group must, as a first step, prove that:
These are called "the three Gingles factors."
- it is large and compact enough to be a majority in a district (a "majority-minority" district);
- it is politically cohesive; and
- bloc voting by the white majority usually defeats the minority group's candidate of choice.
|Federal courts must defer to state courts
Growe v. Emison [507 U.S. 25]
Federal courts must defer to state courts in redistricting litigation.
"...the Constitution leaves with the States primary responsibility for
apportionment of their federal congressional and state legislative
districts....[A] federal court must neither affirmatively obstruct state
reapportionment nor permit federal litigation to be used to impede it."
|Race must not be the predominant factor
Shaw v. Reno [509 U.S. 630]
Racial gerrymanders designed primarily to maximize minority voting power
can violate the equal protection rights of whites. Districts must be based
primarily on "traditional redistricting principles," and not primarily on
|Minority voters and voting power
Johnson v. DeGrandy [512 U.S. 997]
If minority voters have effective
voting majorities in a number of districts substantially proportional to their
share of the population, that is a strong indication that the redistricting did
not dilute their voting power.
|Strange district shapes not required to meet racial requirements
Bush v. Vera [517 U.S. 952]
The voting rights act does not require a state to create a district that is not reasonably compact, in order to
create majority-minority districts.
|Is it race, or just politics?
Hunt v. Cromartie [532 U.S. 234]
A challenge to a redistricting
plan on the basis that race was the predominant factor must prove that politics
was not the predominant factor, where race and voting patterns are highly correlated.
For more information, you can view a videotaped
presentation about redistricting presented to the House Redistricting Committee. Go to the
redistricting archive page for House TV and select the video from the
January 23, 2001 meeting.