462 U.S. 725 (1983), 81-2057, Karcher v. Daggett

Docket Nº:No. 81-2057.
Citation:462 U.S. 725, 103 S.Ct. 2653, 77 L.Ed.2d 133
Party Name:Alan J. KARCHER, Speaker, New Jersey Assembly, et al., Appellants v. George T. DAGGETT et al.
Case Date:June 22, 1983
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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462 U.S. 725 (1983)

103 S.Ct. 2653, 77 L.Ed.2d 133

Alan J. KARCHER, Speaker, New Jersey Assembly, et al., Appellants

v.

George T. DAGGETT et al.

No. 81-2057.

United States Supreme Court.

June 22, 1983

Argued March 2, 1983.

In consolidated cases involving challenge to constitutionality of New Jersey congressional reapportionment statute, a three-judge federal district court for the district of New Jersey, Clarkson S. Fisher, Chief District Judge, 535 F.Supp. 978, held the plan unconstitutional, and State appealed. The Supreme Court, Justice Brennan, [103 S.Ct. 2654] held that: (1) congressional reapportionment plan may not be regarded per se as the product of a good-faith effort to achieve population equality merely because the maximum population deviation among districts is smaller than the predictable undercount in available census data, and (2) evidence sustained district court's finding that State failed to meet its burden of proving that the population deviations in the reapportionment plan were necessary to achieve a consistent, nondiscriminatory legislative policy, because the primary justification asserted for the deviations was that of preserving the voting strength of racial minority groups, but State failed to show that the specific population disparities were necessary to preserve minority voting strength.

Affirmed.

Justice Stevens filed a concurring opinion.

Justice White dissented and filed opinion in which Chief Justice Burger, and Justice Powell and Justice Rehnquist joined.

Justice Powell filed a dissenting opinion.

[103 S.Ct. 2655] Syllabus[*]

SYLLABUS

As a result of the 1980 census, the New Jersey Legislature reapportioned the State's congressional districts. The reapportionment plan contained 14 districts, with an average population per district of 526,059, each district, on the average, differing from the "ideal" figure by 0.1384%. The largest district (Fourth District) had a population of 527,472, and the smallest (Sixth District) had a population of 523,798, the difference between them being 0.6984% of the average district. In a suit by a group of individuals challenging the plan's validity, the District Court held that the plan violated Art. I, § 2, of the Constitution because the population deviations among districts, although small, were not the result of a good-faith effort to achieve population equality.

Held:

1. The "equal representation" standard of Art. I, § 2, requires that congressional districts be apportioned to achieve population equality as nearly as is practicable. Parties challenging apportionment legislation bear the burden of proving that population differences among districts could have been reduced or eliminated by a good-faith effort to draw districts of equal population. If the plaintiffs carry their burden, the State must then bear the burden of proving that each significant variance between districts was necessary to achieve some legitimate goal. Cf. Kirkpatrick v. Preisler, 394 U.S. 526, 89 S.Ct. 1225, 22 L.Ed.2d 519; White v. Weiser, 412 U.S. 783, 93 S.Ct. 2348, 37 L.Ed.2d 335. P. 2658.

2. New Jersey's plan may not be regarded per se as the product of a good-faith effort to achieve population equality merely because the maximum population deviation among districts is smaller than the predictable undercount in available census data. Pp. 2658-2663.

[103 S.Ct. 2656] (a) The "as nearly as practicable" standard for apportioning congressional districts "is inconsistent with adoption of fixed numerical standards which excuse population variances without regard to the circumstances of each particular case." Kirkpatrick, supra, 394 U.S., at 530, 89 S.Ct., at 1228. Only the principle of population equality as developed in Kirkpatrick, supra, and Wesberry v. Sanders, 376 U.S. 1, 84 S.Ct. 526, 11 L.Ed.2d 481, reflects the aspirations of Art. I, § 2. There are no de minimis population variations, which could practicably

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be avoided, that may be considered as meeting the standard of Art. I, § 2, without justification. Pp. 2658-2660.

(b) There is no merit to the contention that population deviation from ideal district size should be considered to be the functional equivalent of zero as a matter of law where that deviation is less than the predictable undercount in census figures. Even assuming that the extent to which the census system systematically undercounts actual population can be precisely determined, it would not be relevant. The census count provides the only reliable--albeit less than perfect--indication of the districts' "real" relative population levels, and furnishes the only basis for good-faith attempts to achieve population equality. Pp. 2660-2662.

(c) The population differences involved here could have been avoided or significantly reduced with a good-faith effort to achieve population equality. Resort to the simple device of transferring entire political subdivisions of known population between contiguous districts would have produced districts much closer to numerical equality. Thus the District Court did not err in finding that the plaintiffs met their burden of showing that the plan did not come as nearly as practicable to population equality. Pp. 2662-2663.

3. The District Court properly found that the defendants did not meet their burden of proving that the population deviations in the plan were necessary to achieve a consistent, nondiscriminatory legislative policy. The State must show with specificity that a particular objective required the specific deviations in its plans. The primary justification asserted was that of preserving the voting strength of racial minority groups, but appellants failed to show that the specific population disparities were necessary to preserve minority voting strength. Pp. 2663-2665.

535 F.Supp. 978, affirmed.

COUNSEL

Kenneth J. Guido, Jr., argued the cause for appellants. With him on the briefs were Harry R. Sachse, Loftus E. Becker, Jr., Donald J. Simon, Clive S. Cummis, Charles J. Walsh, Jerald D. Baranoff, Leon J. Sokol, Michael D. Solomon, Lawrence T. Marinari, and Robert A. Farkas.

Bernard Hellring argued the cause for appellees. With him on the brief were Jonathan L. Goldstein, Robert S. Raymar, and Stephen L. Dreyfuss.*

* Roger Allan Moore, Richard P. Foelber, and Michael A. Hess filed a brief for the Republican National Committee as amicus curiae urging affirmance.

Kenneth J. Guido, Jr., Newark, N.J., for appellants.

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Bernard Hellring, Newark, N.J., for appellees.

OPINION

Justice BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question presented by this appeal is whether an apportionment plan for congressional districts satisfies Art. I, § 2 without need for further justification if the population of the largest district is less than one percent greater than the population of the smallest district. A three-judge District Court declared New Jersey's 1982 reapportionment plan unconstitutional on the authority of Kirkpatrick v. Preisler, 394 U.S. 526, 89 S.Ct. 1225, 22 L.Ed.2d 519 (1969), and White v. Weiser, 412 U.S. 783, 93 S.Ct. 2348, 37 L.Ed.2d 335 (1973), because the population deviations among districts, although small, were not the result of a good-faith effort to achieve population equality. We affirm.

I

After the results of the 1980 decennial census had been tabulated, the Clerk of the United States House of Representatives notified the Governor of New Jersey that the number of representatives to which the State was entitled had decreased from 15 to 14. Accordingly, the New Jersey Legislature was required to reapportion the State's congressional districts. The State's 199th Legislature passed two reapportionment bills. One was vetoed by the Governor, and the second, although signed into [103 S.Ct. 2657] law, occasioned significant dissatisfaction among those who felt it diluted minority voting strength in the city of Newark. See App. 83-84, 86-90. In response, the 200th Legislature returned to the problem of apportioning congressional districts when it convened in January, 1982, and it swiftly passed a bill (S-711) introduced by Senator Feldman, President pro tem of the State Senate,

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which created the apportionment plan at issue in this case. The bill was signed by the Governor on January 19, 1982, becoming P.L. 1982, c. 1 (hereinafter Feldman Plan). A map of the resulting apportionment is appended infra.

Like every plan considered by the Legislature, the Feldman Plan contained 14 districts, with an average population per district (as determined by the 1980 census) of 526,059. 1 Each district did not have the same population. On the average, each district differed from the "ideal" figure by 0.1384%, or about 726 people. The largest district, the Fourth District, which includes Trenton, had a population of 527,472, and the smallest, the Sixth District, embracing most of Middlesex County, a population of 523,798. The difference between them was 3,674 people, or 0.6984% of the average district. The populations of the other districts also varied. The Ninth District, including most of Bergen County, in the northeastern corner of the State, had a population of 527,349, while the population of the Third District, along the Atlantic shore, was only 524,825. App. 124.

The Legislature had before it other plans with appreciably smaller population deviations between the largest and smallest districts. The one receiving the most attention in the District Court was designed by Dr. Ernest Reock, a political science professor at Rutgers University and Director of the Bureau of Government Research. A version of the Reock

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Plan...

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