507 U.S. 25 (1993), 91-1420, Growe v. Emison

Docket Nº:No. 91-1420
Citation:507 U.S. 25, 113 S.Ct. 1075, 122 L.Ed.2d 388, 61 U.S.L.W. 4163
Party Name:Growe v. Emison
Case Date:February 23, 1993
Court:United States Supreme Court

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507 U.S. 25 (1993)

113 S.Ct. 1075, 122 L.Ed.2d 388, 61 U.S.L.W. 4163




No. 91-1420

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 23, 1993

Argued Nov. 2, 1992




Shortly after a group of Minnesota voters filed a state court action against the Minnesota Secretary of State and other election officials, appellee voters filed a similar action against essentially the same officials in the Federal District Court. Both suits alleged that, in light of the 1990 census results, the State's congressional and legislative districts were malapportioned, in violation of the Federal and State Constitutions; the federal suit contained the additional claim that the current districts diluted the vote of minority groups in Minneapolis, in violation of § 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Both suits sought declaration that the current districts were unlawful, and judicial construction of new districts if the State Legislature failed to act. After the State Legislature adopted a new legislative districting plan, which contained numerous drafting errors, a second federal action was filed raising constitutional challenges to the new legislative districts; the two federal suits were consolidated. The District Court set a deadline for the Legislature to act on redistricting plans, but refused to abstain or defer to the state court proceedings. The state court, having found the new legislative districts defective because of the drafting errors, issued a preliminary legislative redistricting plan correcting most of those errors, to be held in abeyance pending further action by the Legislature. Before the state court could take additional action, the District Court stayed the state court proceedings; this Court vacated that stay. When the Governor vetoed the Legislature's effort to correct the defective legislative redistricting plan and to adopt new congressional districts, the state court issued a final order adopting its legislative plan, and held hearings on the congressional plans submitted by the parties. Before the state court could issue a congressional plan, however, the District Court adopted its own redistricting [113 S.Ct. 1077] plans, both legislative and congressional, and permanently enjoined interference with state implementation of those plans. The District Court found, in effect, that the state court's legislative plan violated the Voting Rights Act because it did not contain a "super-majority minority" Senate District; its own plan contained such a district, designed to create a majority composed of at least three separately identifiable minority groups.

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1. The District Court erred in not deferring to the state court's timely efforts to redraw the legislative and congressional districts. States have the primary duty and responsibility to perform that task, and federal courts must defer their action when a State, through its legislative or judicial branch, has begun in timely fashion to address the issue. Scott v. Germano, 381 U.S. 407. Absent evidence that these branches cannot timely perform their duty, a federal court cannot affirmatively obstruct, or permit federal litigation to impede, state reapportionment. Judged by these principles, the District Court erred in several respects: it set a deadline for reapportionment directed only to the State Legislature, instead of to the Legislature and courts. It issued an injunction that treated the state court's provisional legislative plan as "interfering" in the reapportionment process. It failed to give the state court's final order adopting a legislative plan legal effect under the principles of federalism and comity embodied in the full faith and credit statute. And it actively prevented the state court from issuing its own congressional plan, although it appears that the state court was prepared to do so. Pp. 32-37.

2. The District Court erred in its conclusion that the state court's legislative plan violated § 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The three prerequisites that were identified in Thornburg v. Gingles, 478 U.S. 30, as necessary to establish a vote dilution claim with respect to a multimember districting plan -- a minority group that is sufficiently large and geographically compact to constitute a majority in a single-member district, minority political cohesion, and majority bloc voting that enables defeat of the minority's preferred candidate -- are also necessary to establish a vote-fragmentation claim with respect to a single-member district. In the present case, even making the dubious assumption that the minority voters were geographically compact, the record contains no statistical or anecdotal evidence of majority bloc voting or minority political cohesion among the distinct ethnic and language minority groups the District Court combined in the new district. The Gingles preconditions were not only ignored, but were, on this record, unattainable. Pp. 37-42.

782 F.Supp. 427, reversed and remanded.

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

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SCALIA, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case raises important issues regarding the propriety of the District Court's pursuing reapportionment of Minnesota's state legislative and federal congressional districts in the face of Minnesota state court litigation seeking similar relief; and regarding the District Court's conclusion that the state court's legislative plan violated § 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 79 Stat. 437, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 1973.


In January, 1991, a group of Minnesota voters filed a state court action against the Minnesota Secretary of State and other officials [113 S.Ct. 1078] responsible for administering elections, claiming that the State's congressional and legislative districts were malapportioned, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Federal Constitution and Article 4, § 2, of the Minnesota Constitution. Cotlow v. Growe, No. C8-91-985. The plaintiffs asserted that the 1990 federal census results revealed a significant change in the distribution of the State population, and requested that the court declare the current districts unlawful and draw new districts if the Legislature failed to do so. In February, the parties stipulated that, in light of the new census, the challenged districting plans were

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unconstitutional. The Minnesota Supreme Court appointed a Special Redistricting Panel (composed of one appellate judge and two district judges) to preside over the case.

In March, a second group of plaintiffs filed an action in federal court against essentially the same defendants, raising similar challenges to the congressional and legislative districts. Emison v. Growe, 782 F.Supp. 427. The Emison plaintiffs (who include members of various racial minorities) in addition raised objections to the legislative districts under § 2 of the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1973, alleging that those districts needlessly fragmented two Indian reservations and divided the minority population of Minneapolis. The suit sought declaratory relief and continuing federal jurisdiction over any legislative efforts to develop new districts. A three-judge panel was appointed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2284(a).

While the federal and state actions were getting underway, the Minnesota Legislature was holding public hearings on, and designing, new legislative districts. In May, it adopted a new legislative districting plan, Chapter 246, Minn.Stat. §§ 2.403-2.703 (Supp.1991), and repealed the prior 1983 apportionment. It was soon recognized that Chapter 246 contained many technical errors -- mistaken compass directions, incorrect street names, noncontiguous districts, and a few instances of double representation. By August, committees of the Legislature had prepared curative legislation, Senate File 1596 and House File 1726 (collectively, Senate File 1596), but the Legislature, which had adjourned in late May, was not due to reconvene until January 6, 1992.

Later in August, another group of plaintiffs filed a second action in federal court, again against the Minnesota Secretary of State. Benson v. Growe, No. 4-91-603. The Benson plaintiffs, who include the Republican minority leaders of the Minnesota Senate and House, raised federal and state constitutional challenges to Chapter 246, but no Voting

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Rights Act allegations. The Benson action was consolidated with the Emison suit; the Cotlow plaintiffs, as well as the Minnesota House of Representatives and State Senate, intervened.

With the Legislature out of session, the committees' proposed curative measures for Chapter 246 pending, and the state court in Cotlow considering many of the same issues, the District Court granted the defendants' motion to defer further proceedings pending action by the Minnesota Legislature. It denied, however, defendants' motion to abstain in light of the Cotlow suit, or to allow the state court first to review any legislative action or, if the Legislature failed to act, to allow the state court first to issue a court-ordered redistricting plan. The District Court set a January 20, 1992, deadline for the state Legislature's action on both redistricting plans, and appointed special masters to develop contingent plans in the event the Legislature failed to correct Chapter 246 or to reapportion Minnesota's eight congressional districts.

Meanwhile, the Cotlow panel concluded (in October) that Chapter 246, applied as written (i.e., with its drafting errors), violated both the State and Federal Constitutions, and invited the parties to submit alternative legislative plans based on Chapter 246. It also directed the parties to submit by mid-October written arguments on any Chapter 246 violations of the Voting Rights Act. In late November, the state court issued an [113 S.Ct. 1079] order...

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