420 U.S. 1 (1975), 73-1406, Chapman v. Meier

Docket Nº:No. 73-1406
Citation:420 U.S. 1, 95 S.Ct. 751, 42 L.Ed.2d 766
Party Name:Chapman v. Meier
Case Date:January 27, 1975
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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420 U.S. 1 (1975)

95 S.Ct. 751, 42 L.Ed.2d 766

Chapman

v.

Meier

No. 73-1406

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 27, 1975

Argued November 13, 1974

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

FOR THE DISTRICT OF NORTH DAKOTA

Syllabus

This case involves the issue of the constitutionality of a federal court-ordered reapportionment of the North Dakota Legislative Assembly. Following protracted state and federal litigation challenging various apportionment plans, statutes, and state constitutional provisions, including a federal action in which a three-judge District Court in 1965 approved a reapportionment plan that included five multi-member senatorial districts, appellants brought the present federal action against appellee, the Secretary of State, alleging that substantial population shifts had occurred and that the 1965 plan no longer met equal protection requirements, and requesting the court to order apportionment based on the 1970 census figures, to provide for single member districts, to declare the 1965 plan invalid, and to restrain appellee from administering the election laws under that plan. A three-judge District Court, holding that such plan failed to meet constitutional standards, approved another plan that called for five multi-member senatorial districts and that contained a 20% population variance between the largest and smallest senatorial districts.

Held:

1. This Court has jurisdiction of the appeal under 28 U.S.C. § 1253. Although the challenged reapportionment plan was court-ordered,

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its enforcement is based on the State's Constitution and statutes, its effectuation directly depends on the state election law machinery, and the plan itself is a court-imposed replacement of state constitutional provisions and reapportionment statutes. Pp. 13-14.

2. Absent persuasive justification, a federal district court, in ordering state legislative reapportionment, should refrain from imposing multi-member districts upon a State. Here, the District Court has failed to articulate a significant state interest supporting its departure from the general preference for single member districts in court-ordered reapportionment plans that this Court recognized in Connor v. Johnson, 402 U.S. 690, and unless the District Court can articulate such [95 S.Ct. 754] a "singular combination of unique factors" as was found to exist in Mahan v. Howell, 410 U.S. 315, 333, or unless the 1975 Legislative Assembly appropriately acts, the court should proceed expeditiously to reinstate single member senatorial districts. Pp. 121.

3. A population deviation of such magnitude in a court-ordered reapportionment plan as the 20% variance involved here is constitutionally impermissible absent significant state policies or other acceptable considerations requiring its adoption. The burden is on the District Court to elucidate the reasons necessitating any departure from approximate population equality and to articulate clearly the relationship between the variance and the state policy furthered. Here, the District Court's allowance of the 20% variance is not justified, as the court claimed, by the absence of "electorally victimized minorities," by the sparseness of North Dakota's population, by the division of the State caused by the Missouri River, or by the asserted state policy of observing geographical boundaries and existing political subdivisions, especially when it appears that other, less statistically offensive, reapportionment plans already devised are feasible. Pp. 21-26.

372 F.Supp. 371, reversed and remanded.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

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BLACKMUN, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the issue of the constitutionality of a federal court-ordered reapportionment of the North Dakota Legislature, called in that State the Legislative Assembly. That State, like many others, has struggled to satisfy constitutional requirements for legislative apportionment delineated in Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186 (1962); Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533 (1964); WMCA, Inc. v. Lomenzo, 377 U.S. 633 (1964); Maryland Committee v. Tawes, 377 U.S. 656 (1964); Davis v. Mann, 377 U.S. 678 (1964); Roman v. Sincock, 377 U.S. 695 (1964); Lucas v. Colorado General Assembly, 377 U.S. 713 (1964), and other cases. This litigation is the culmination of that struggle, totally ineffectual on the legislative side, during the past decade.

I

The State's Constitution and Its Statutes

North Dakota's original Constitution, adopted at the State's admission into the Union in 1889, is still in effect. It has been amended, of course, from time to time. Since 1918, § 25 thereof has read: "The legislative power of this state shall be vested in a legislature consisting of a senate and a house of representatives." N.D.Const. Art. II, § 25. That legislative power for 70 years has been subject to the initiative and the referendum. Ibid. The Constitution has further provided that the State's senate "shall be composed of forty-nine members," § 26, elected for a four-year term, § 27, with one-half thereof elected every two years, § 30, and that no one shall be a senator unless he is a qualified elector of the senatorial district, has attained the age of 25 years, and has been a

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resident of the State for the two years next preceding the election, § 28. Since 1960, § 29 has read:

Each existing senatorial district as provided by law at the effective date of this amendment shall permanently constitute a senatorial district. Each senatorial district shall be represented [95 S.Ct. 755] by one senator and no more.1

1 Laws 1959, c. 438; Laws 1961, c.405.

The document also states that the house of representatives "shall be composed of not less than sixty, nor more than one hundred forty members," § 32, elected for a two-year term, § 33, and that no one shall be a representative unless he is a qualified elector of the district, has attained the age of 21 years, and has been a resident of the State for the two years next preceding the election, § 34. Section 35 provides for at least one representative for each senatorial district and for as many representatives as there are counties in the district; states that the Legislative Assembly, after each federal decennial census, shall apportion "the balance of the members of the House of Representatives," and, if the Legislative Assembly fails in its apportionment duty, places the task of apportioning the house in a designated group of officials of the state.2

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There have been complementary statutory provisions. An apportionment effected by Laws 1931, c. 7, N.D.Cent.Code § 503-01 (1960), was in effect for over 30 years despite the mandate of § 35 of the Constitution that apportionment be effected after each federal census.

II

Prior Litigation

A. Things began to stir in North Dakota even prior to this Court's decision in Baker v. Carr in 1962. The State's Legislative Assembly of 1961 had failed to apportion the house following the 1960 census. After Baker

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had been decided at the District Court level, 179 F.Supp. 824 (MD Tenn.1959), and between the argument and reargument of the case here, the Supreme Court of North Dakota dismissed an original action for a prerogative writ to enjoin its Chief Justice from issuing the apportionment proclamation which would have announced the conclusions of the statutorily designated "apportionment group" that were then anticipated. The petition [95 S.Ct. 756] asserted that the group's plan would apportion the house in an unconstitutional manner and not according to population. The Supreme Court ruled that the function of the group was legislative; that it had not yet completed its work; that it was performing a function the Legislative Assembly should have performed; and that, until the proclamation was issued, the group's action was not subject to challenge in the courts. State ex rel. Aamoth v. Sathre, 110 N.W.2d 228 (1961).

B. Citizens of North Dakota then sought declaratory and injunctive relief in federal court under the Civil Rights Acts, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988. By this time, the State's Chief Justice had issued the proclamation. A three-judge District Court held that the presence of the proclamation eliminated the aspect of prematurity that had characterized the earlier challenge in the state court. But the "basic issues," the court concluded with one dissent, had not been presented to the Supreme Court of North Dakota. "We believe that court should have the opportunity of passing on all questions herein." The court, accordingly, abstained from passing upon those issues; it stayed further proceedings before it, but did not dismiss the action. Lein v. Sathre, 201 F.Supp. 535, 542 (ND 1962).

C. The plaintiffs in the federal case promptly took to the Supreme Court of North Dakota their attack upon the plan adopted by the apportionment group. That

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court assumed jurisdiction. State ex rel. Lein v. Sathre, 113 N.W.2d 679, 681 (1962). It noted that no question arising under the United States Constitution was presented, id. at 681-682, and that it was not concerned with the validity of the allotment of one representative to each senatorial district, as prescribed by the first sentence of § 35 of the Constitution, id. at 683. The court recognized that there was inherent in a constitutional direction to apportion according to population "a limited discretion to make the apportionment that will approach, as nearly as is reasonably possible, a mathematical equality." Id. at 685. It then went on to hold that the apportionment made by the group "violates the constitutional mandate of apportionment according to the population of the several districts and is void," id. at 687, and that the apportionment effected by the 1931 statute continued to be the law until superseded by an apportionment valid under § 35...

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