431 U.S. 407 (1977), 76-777, Connor v. Finch

Docket Nº:No. 76-777
Citation:431 U.S. 407, 97 S.Ct. 1828, 52 L.Ed.2d 465
Party Name:Connor v. Finch
Case Date:May 31, 1977
Court:United States Supreme Court

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431 U.S. 407 (1977)

97 S.Ct. 1828, 52 L.Ed.2d 465




No. 76-777

United States Supreme Court

May 31, 1977

Argued February 28, 1977




1. The Federal District Court's legislative reapportionment plan for Mississippi's Senate and House of Representatives held not to embody the equitable discretion necessary to effectuate the standards of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment in that the plan failed to meet that Clause's most elemental requirement that legislative districts be "as nearly of equal population as is practicable." Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533, 577. Pp. 413-421.

(a) A court is held to stricter standards than a state legislature in devising a legislative reapportionment plan, and

unless there are persuasive justifications, a court-ordered reapportionment plan of a state legislature must avoid use of multimember districts, and, as well, must ordinarily achieve the goal of population equality with little more than de minimis variation.

Chapman v. Meier, 420 U.S. 1, 26-27. Here, where the District Court's plan departed from the "population equality" norm in deference to Mississippi's historic respect for the integrity of county boundaries in conjunction with legislative districts, the resulting maximum population deviations of 16.5% in the Senate districts and 19.3% in the House districts cannot be characterized as de minimis. Pp. 414-417.

(b) "With a court plan, any deviation from approximate population equality must be supported by enunciation of historically significant state policy or unique features," Chapman v. Meier, supra, at 26, and the District Court failed here to identify any such "unique features" of the Mississippi political structure as would permit a judicial protection of county boundaries in the teeth of the judicial duty to "achieve the goal of population equality with little more than de minimis variation." Pp. 417-420.

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2. With respect to the claim that the District Court plan's reapportionment of some districts impermissibly dilutes Negro voting strength, the District Court on remand should either draw legislative districts that are reasonably contiguous and compact, so as to put to rest suspicions that Negro voting strength is being purposefully diluted, or explain precisely why in a particular instance that goal cannot be accomplished. Pp. 421-426.

Reversed and remanded.

STEWART, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined, and in Parts I and II of which BURGER, C.J., and BLACKMUN, J., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, in which BURGER, C.J., joined, post, p. 426. POWELL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 430. REHNQUIST, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the cases.

STEWART, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question in this litigation concerns the constitutional validity of a legislative reapportionment plan devised by a three-judge Federal District Court for Mississippi's Senate and House of Representatives. In Nos. 76-777 and 76-935, the

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appellants are the Mississippi voters who originally brought this class action in the District Court. They challenge the court's entire Senate plan, and aspects of the House plan, as failing to meet the basic one-person, one-vote requirements of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and particularly the constitutional and equitable requirements of a court-ordered reapportionment plan.1 In No. 76-934, the appellant is the Government, an intervenor in the District [97 S.Ct. 1831] Court.2 These appellants join in asserting that the District Court's plan works an impermissible dilution of Negro voting strength, and they challenge as well the District Court's decree for its failure to order special elections in all legislative districts where new or significantly stronger Negro voting majorities were created by the District Court's plan. In No. 76-933, the appellants are the state officers who were named as defendants in the District Court. These appellants assert that the District Court should have accorded greater deference to Mississippi's historic policy of respecting county boundaries. and thus should have established multimember legislative districts, and they further assert that the court erred in ordering any special elections at all.

We do not reach all the complicated issues raised by the various appellants, because we have concluded that both the Senate and the House reapportionments ordered by the District Court fail to meet the most elemental requirement of the Equal Protection Clause in this area -- that legislative districts

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be "as nearly of equal population as is practicable." Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533, 577; Chapman v. Meier, 420 U.S. 1.


The effort to reapportion the Mississippi Legislature in accordance with constitutional requirements has occupied the attention of the federal courts for 12 years. This painfully protracted process of litigation began in the wake of Reynolds v. Sims, supra, when the appellants in No. 76-777 challenged in the District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, the extreme population variances of the legislative apportionment that had been enacted by the state legislature in 1962. The District Court invalidated that plan. Connor v. Johnson, 256 F.Supp. 962.3 After waiting for an ultimately unsuccessful attempt by the legislature to enact a constitutional reapportionment, the District Court then promulgated its own plan for the 1967 quadrennial elections, relying rather extensively on multimember districting in both legislative houses to achieve substantial population equality.4 Connor v. Johnson, 265 F.Supp. 492.

In 1971, the state legislature enacted another apportionment; that legislation was held unconstitutional because the District Court could find no justification for the continuing substantial population variances among the various legislative districts. Connor v. Johnson, 330 F.Supp. 506. The court consequently formulated its own plan to govern the 1971 elections, continuing to rely extensively on multimember districts,5 and failing altogether to formulate a final plan with

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respect to the State's three largest counties -- Hinds, Harrison, and Jackson. Those counties instead were given interim multimember representation. In an interlocutory appeal from that order, this Court pointed out that single member districts are preferable to large multimember [97 S.Ct. 1832] districts in court-ordered reapportionment plans, and accordingly stayed the judgment of the District Court and instructed it, "absent insurmountable difficulties, to devise and put into effect a single member district plan for Hinds County."6 Connor v. Johnson, 402 U.S. 690, 692. The District Court found itself confronted by insurmountable difficulties, however, and did not divide Hinds County into single member districts before the 1971 election. Connor v. Johnson, 330 F.Supp. 521.

On direct appeal, after the 1971 elections had taken place pursuant to the District Court's plan, this Court declined to consider the prospective validity of the 1971 plan in the continued absence of a final plan redistricting Hinds, Harrison, and Jackson Counties. Connor v. Williams, 404 U.S. 549. Relying on the District Court's stated intention to appoint a Special Master in January, 1972, to consider the subdivision of those counties into single member districts, we vacated the judgment and remanded with directions to the District Court that "[s]uch proceedings should go forward and be promptly concluded." Id. at 551.

No Special Master was appointed. In anticipation of the 1975 elections, however, the Mississippi Legislature, in April, 1973, enacted a new apportionment. A hearing was not held on the plaintiffs' prompt objections to that legislation until February, 1975. Before the District Court reached a decision,

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however, the Mississippi Legislature enacted yet another apportionment almost identical to the 1971 court-ordered plan, but permanently adopting multimember districts for Hinds, Harrison, and Jackson Counties. The District Court ordered the filing of a new complaint addressing the 1975 legislation, and concluded that it was constitutional. Connor v. Waller, 396 F.Supp. 1308.7 We reversed, holding that the legislative apportionment could not be effective as law until it had been submitted and had received clearance under § 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 1973c, and that the District Court had accordingly erred in considering its constitutional validity. Connor v. Waller, 421 U.S. 656.

In compliance with § 5 of the Voting Rights Act, Mississippi then submitted the 1975 legislation to the Attorney General of the United States. When he objected to the legislation,8 the District Court proceeded to formulate another temporary reapportionment plan using multimember districts for the conduct of the 1975 elections. When the District Court delayed consideration of a permanent plan for the 1979 elections, this Court allowed the filing of a petition for a writ of mandamus to compel the District Court to enter a final judgment embodying a permanent reapportionment plan for

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the Mississippi Legislature. Connor v. Coleman, 425 U.S. 675.9 The District Court thereupon held hearings and entered a judgment adopting a [97 S.Ct. 1833] final plan. See 419 F.Supp. 1072, 419 F.Supp. 1089, 422 F.Supp. 1014. We noted probable jurisdiction of these appeals challenging that judgment. 429 U.S. 1010 and 1060.



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