412 U.S. 735 (1973), 71-1476, Gaffney v. Cummings

Docket Nº:No. 71-1476
Citation:412 U.S. 735, 93 S.Ct. 2321, 37 L.Ed.2d 298
Party Name:Gaffney v. Cummings
Case Date:June 18, 1973
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 735

412 U.S. 735 (1973)

93 S.Ct. 2321, 37 L.Ed.2d 298




No. 71-1476

United States Supreme Court

June 18, 1973

Argued February 26-27, 1973




Connecticut's legislative apportionment plan was held by the District Court to be unconstitutional because partisan political structuring had resulted in excessive population deviations in the House districting.


1. Minor deviations from mathematical equality among state legislative districts do not make out a prima facie case of invidious discrimination under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and in this case, where the House districts deviated on the average by 1.9% and the maximum deviation was 7.83%, a prima facie case was not made out. Pp. 740-751.

2. A "political fairness principle" that achieves a rough approximation of the state-wide political strengths of the two major parties does not violate the Equal Protection Clause. Pp. 751-754.

341 F.Supp. 139, reversed.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which DOUGLAS and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 772.

WHITE, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

The questions in this case are whether the population variations among the election districts provided by a reapportionment plan for the Connecticut General Assembly, proposed in 1971, made out a prima facie

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case of invidious discrimination under the Equal Protection Clause and whether an otherwise acceptable reapportionment plan is constitutionally vulnerable where its purpose is to provide districts that would achieve "political fairness" between the political parties.


The reapportionment plan for the Connecticut General Assembly became law when published by Connecticut's Secretary of State in December, 1971. Under the State's Constitution, the legislature is given the initial opportunity to reapportion itself in the months immediately following the completion of a decennial census of the United States. Conn.Const., Art. III, § 6(b). In the present case, the legislature was unable to agree on a plan by the state constitutional deadline of April 1, 1971. The task was therefore transferred, as required by the constitution, to an eight-member bipartisan commission. Ibid. The Democratic and Republican Party leaders in the legislature each appointed four commissioners. The commission was given until July 1, 1971, to devise a reapportionment plan, id., § 6(c); but, although the commission approached agreement, it too was unable to adopt a plan within the deadline. Accordingly, as a final step in the constitutional process, a three-man bipartisan Board was constituted. Id., § 6(d). The Speaker of the House of Representatives, a Democrat, and the Republican Minority Leader of the House each chose a judge of the State Superior Court to be a Board member, and the two judges in turn designated a third Board member, who was a justice of the State Supreme Court. Ibid.

This Apportionment Board, using the census data available during the summer of 1971, and relying heavily on the legislative commission's tentative plans, filed a

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reapportionment plan on September 30, 1971, with one member dissenting.

According to the 1970 census data before the Board, the population of Connecticut is 3,032,217. The Board's reapportionment plan provides for a Senate consisting of 36 senators elected from single member districts. The ideal senatorial district, in terms of population, would thus contain 84,228 people. The districts actually created deviate, on the average, by O.45% from this ideal, the median deviation being O.47%. The largest and smallest senatorial districts deviate by +0.88% and -0.93%, respectively, making the total maximum deviation 1.81%.1

The reapportionment plan proposed a House of 151 single member districts. The population of the ideal assembly district would be 20,081. The average deviation from perfect equality for all the plan's assembly districts is 1.9%, the median deviation, 1.8,%. The maximum deviation from the ideal is +3.93% and -3.9%. The maximum deviation between any two districts thus totals 7.83%.2

In Connecticut, towns, rather than counties, are the basic unit of local government. See Butterworth v. Dempsey, 229 F.Supp. 754, 761 (Conn.), aff'd, 378 U.S. 564 (1964). The State Constitution provides that "no town shall be divided" for the purpose of creating House districts, except where districts are formed "wholly within the town." Art. III, § 4. No comparable directive exists for the creation of Senate districts. The Constitution further provides, however, that the "establishment of districts . . . shall be consistent with federal

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constitutional standards." Id., § 5. To meet those standards and to reach what it thought to be substantial population equality, the Board cut the boundary lines of 47 of the State's 169 towns.3 The Board also consciously and overtly adopted and followed a policy of "political [93 S.Ct. 2324] fairness," which aimed at a rough scheme of proportional representation of the two major political parties. Senate and House districts were structured so that the composition of both Houses would reflect "as closely as possible . . . the actual [state-wide] plurality of vote on the House or Senate lines in a given election."4 Rather than focusing on party membership in the respective districts, the Board took into account the party voting results in the preceding three state-wide elections, and, on that basis, created what was thought to be a proportionate number of Republican and Democratic legislative seats.

In November, 1971, not long after the Board filed the reapportionment plan with the Secretary of the State, an action was brought in federal district court seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against implementation of the plan. The complaint alleged that the Board

erroneously applied the one man-one vote doctrine of the Fourteenth Amendment . . . to achieve smaller deviations from population equality for the assembly districts

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than was required by the Fourteenth Amendment . . . and thereby was compelled to segment an excessive number of towns in forming assembly districts.

The complaint further alleged the plan amounted to a political gerrymander, and contained "a built-in bias in favor of the Republican Party." Appellant Gaffney, the Chairman of the State Republican Party, was permitted to intervene in support of the Board's plan and, after a three-judge court was empaneled, the court heard testimony in March, 1972. At the hearing, plaintiff appellees introduced three alternative House apportionment plans that required fewer town-line cuts, although all three plans involved total deviations from population equality in excess of those contained in the Board plan.5 A fourth plan for the House was submitted with a total maximum deviation from population equality among districts of 2.61%, as compared with the Board plan, which contained a 7.83% total maximum deviation. This alternative plan, however, was prepared without regard for town lines, which were cut substantially more times than in the Board plan.6 Considerable evidence was introduced demonstrating the obvious political considerations in the Board's district-making.7 In late March, the District Court filed its decision invalidating the Board plan and permanently enjoining its use in future elections. 341 F.Supp. 139. The court held that

the deviations

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from equality of populations of the Senate and House districts are not justified by any sufficient state interest, and that the Plan denies equal protection of the law to voters in the districts of greater population. . . .

Id. at 148. The court relied in part on Kirkpatrick v. Preisler, 394 U.S. 526 (1969). More particularly, the court found that the policy of "partisan political structuring," 341 F.Supp. at 150, "cannot be approved as a legitimate reason for violating the requirement of numerical equality of population in districting." Id. at 149. The court therefore required that a plan reflecting "closer adherence to [93 S.Ct. 2325] the constitutional guidelines" be adopted. Jurisdiction over the case was retained for all purposes, and the court announced that it "will appoint a master . . . to devise a plan conforming to federal and state constitutional requirements. . . ." Id. at 150.

On June 12, 1972, after a motion to expedite consideration of the appeal had been denied (406 U.S. 942), this Court granted appellant's motion for a stay of the District Court's judgment. 407 U.S. 902. On the basis of that stay, and a subsequent supportive state order,8 the 1972 fall elections for the State Assembly were held under the Board's reapportionment plan. When this Court convened in October, 1972, we noted probable jurisdiction over the appeal. 409 U.S. 839. By this time, a Special Master had been appointed by the District Court and had prepared a reapportionment plan.


We think that appellees' showing of numerical deviations from population equality among the Senate and

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House districts in this case failed to make out a prima facie violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, whether those deviations are considered alone or in combination with the additional fact that another plan could be conceived with lower deviations among the State's legislative districts. Put another way, the allegations and proof of population deviations among the districts fail in size and quality to amount to an...

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