434 U.S. 1329 (1977), A-149, Wise v. Lipscomb

Docket NºNo. A-149
Citation434 U.S. 1329, 98 S.Ct. 15, 54 L.Ed.2d 41
Party NameWise v. Lipscomb
Case DateAugust 30, 1977
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Page 1329

434 U.S. 1329 (1977)

98 S.Ct. 15, 54 L.Ed.2d 41




No. A-149

United States Supreme Court

Aug. 30, 1977



Application for stay of the Court of Appeals' judgment directing the District Court to require the exclusive use of single-member districts in the election of the Dallas, Tex., City Council, and for recall of the mandate, pending review by this Court, is granted, where it appears that there is a reasonable probability that at least four Members of this Court will vote to grant certiorari, and that, if a stay is not granted, the issues would become moot and the incumbent City Council's capacity to function effectively might be impaired.

See: 551 F. d 1043.

POWELL, J., lead opinion

[98 S.Ct. 16] MR. JUSTICE POWELL, Circuit Justice.

This is an application for a stay of the judgment and recall of the mandate of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. That judgment directs the District Court for the Northern District of Texas to require the exclusive use of single-member districts in the election of the Dallas City Council. Applicants, the Mayor and City Council of Dallas, contend that any redistricting pending review by this Court could have the effect of mooting the case and defeating this Court's jurisdiction.


Before 1975, the 11 members of the Dallas City Council were elected by an exclusively at-large system of voting. Eight places on the ballot were reserved for candidates who resided in one of the city's eight residential districts. Three seats, including the Mayor's, were open to candidates regardless of residence. Voting for all 11 seats was citywide. For many years, Council elections have been nonpartisan, involving slating groups, rather than political parties. Electoral success has depended in major part upon support of one such group, the Citizens' Charter Association.

Page 1330

Plaintiffs representing Negro citizens of Dallas challenged this election system in 1971. Certain Mexican-Americans intervened, but were dismissed from the case for failure to respond to interrogatories. In 1975, the District Court concluded that the at-large election system unconstitutionally diluted the vote of Dallas' Negro citizens. The court rested this conclusion on findings dealing with the geographic concentration of Negroes within the city, the effect of [98 S.Ct. 17] slating groups, and the city's history of de jure discrimination.

Instead of formulating its own districting plan, the court afforded the City Council an opportunity to enact a valid plan. The Council duly adopted an ordinance that provides for election of a Council member from each of eight single-member districts, the remaining three to be elected from the city at large. After careful examination of this plan, the District Court approved it. The court observed that single-member districts generally are preferable, but concluded that several facts weighed in favor of the city's new system. First, the court noted that any plan which did not consider the effect on Mexican-American voters might itself be constitutionally suspect. Indeed, detailed consideration of the plan's effect upon those voters, who were more geographically dispersed than Negro citizens, convinced the District Court that their electoral power would be enhanced. Second, the new plan permitted some citywide representation in a body that functioned as a legislature for the entire city. At-large voting in Dallas dated back to 1907, and there was no showing that its use in the new plan would have adverse effects on any minority. The court found a recent marked improvement in the political participation and general posture of minority groups in Dallas.1

On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed. 551 F.2d 1043 (1977). Relying primarily on East Carroll Parish School Bd.

Page 1331

v. Marshall, 424 U.S. 636 (1976), and apparently drawing no distinction in this respect between court-ordered and legislatively enacted redistricting, the court held that absent unusual circumstances single-member districts are to be preferred. It concluded that no such circumstance existed. The case thereupon was remanded with instructions that the city redistrict itself into an appropriate number of single-member districts. A rehearing was denied, and a requested stay of mandate was refused.


Applicants level three charges of error at the judgment below. First, they contend that the Court of Appeals improperly ignored the distinctions drawn by this Court between state-enacted and court-ordered reapportionment plans. Applicants further argue that the court erroneously held that the city, in fashioning a remedy to correct unconstitutional dilution of the voting rights of one minority group, cannot consider the remedy's impact on other groups in the absence of an adjudication that the other groups' rights also were impaired unconstitutionally. Applicants' final claim is that the court below erred in failing to consider the city's need for some citywide representation.

This Court has declared repeatedly that the standards for evaluating the use of multimember and at-large voting plans differ depending on whether a federal court or a state legislative body initiated the use. E.g., Chapman v. Meier, 420 U.S. 1, 18 (1975); see Connor v. Finch, 431 U.S. 407, 414 (1977). When a federal court imposes a reapportionment plan upon a State, single-member districts are preferable in the absence of unusual circumstances. East Carroll Parish School Bd., supra at 639. But "legislative reapportionment is primarily a matter...

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