512 U.S. 997 (1994), 92-519, Johnson v. De Grandy

Docket Nº:Case No. 92-519
Citation:512 U.S. 997, 114 S.Ct. 2647, 129 L.Ed.2d 775, 62 U.S.L.W. 4755
Party Name:JOHNSON, SPEAKER OF THE FLORIDA HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, et al. v. DE GRANDY et al.
Case Date:June 30, 1994
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 997

512 U.S. 997 (1994)

114 S.Ct. 2647, 129 L.Ed.2d 775, 62 U.S.L.W. 4755

JOHNSON, SPEAKER OF THE FLORIDA HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, et al.

v.

DE GRANDY et al.

Case No. 92-519

United States Supreme Court

June 30, 1994[*]

Argued October 4, 1993

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF FLORIDA

Syllabus

In these consolidated cases, a group of Hispanic voters, a group of black voters, and the Federal Government claim that Florida's reapportionment plan for the State's single-member Senate and House districts (SJR 2-G) unlawfully dilutes the voting strength of Hispanics and blacks in the Dade County area, in violation of § 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The State Supreme Court, in a review required by the State Constitution, declared the plan valid under federal and state law, while acknowledging that time constraints precluded full review and authorizing any interested party to bring a § 2 challenge in that court. The plaintiffs chose, however, to pursue their claims in federal court. A three-judge District Court reviewed the totality of circumstances as required by § 2 and Thornburg v. Gingles, 478 U.S. 30, and concluded that the three Gingles preconditions for establishing dilution were satisfied, justifying a finding of vote dilution. Specifically, the court found that voting proceeded largely along racial lines, producing a system of "tripartite politics"; that Hispanics in the Dade County area could constitute a majority in 11 House and 4 Senate districts, but that SJR 2-G had created only 9 House and 3 Senate districts with Hispanic majorities; that an additional majority-black Senate district could have been drawn; and that Florida's minorities had suffered historically from official discrimination, the social, economic, and political effects of which they continued to feel. The court imposed a remedial plan with 11 majority-Hispanic House districts but, concluding that the remedies for blacks and Hispanics in the senatorial districts were mutually exclusive, left SJR 2-G's Senate districts in force.

Held:

1. The District Court properly refused to give preclusive effect to the State Supreme Court's decision validating SJR 2-G. Pp. 1004-1006.

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2. There is no violation of § 2 in SJR 2-G's House districts, where in spite of continuing discrimination and racial bloc voting, minority voters form effective voting majorities in a number of House districts roughly proportional to their respective shares in the voting-age population. While such proportionality is not dispositive, it is a relevant fact in the totality of circumstances to be analyzed when determining whether minority voters have "less opportunity than other members of the electorate to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice," 42 U.S.C. § 1973(b). Pp. 1006-1022.

(a) This Court assumes without deciding that the first Gingles factor has been satisfied in these cases. Pp. 1008-1009.

(b) While proof of the Gingles factors is necessary to make out a claim that a set of district lines violates § 2, it is not necessarily sufficient. Rather, a court must assess the probative significance of the Gingles factors after considering all circumstances with arguable bearing on the issue of equal political opportunity. Here, the court misjudged the relative importance of the Gingles factors and of historical discrimination by equating dilution where these had been found with failure to maximize the number of majority-minority districts. Dilution cannot be inferred from the mere failure to guarantee minority voters maximum political influence. Pp. 1009-1017.

(c) Ruling as the State proposes, that as a matter of law no dilution occurs whenever proportionality exists, would likewise provide a bright-line decisional rule only in derogation of the statutory text. While proportionality is an indication that minority voters have equal political and electoral opportunity in spite of racial polarization, it is no guarantee, and it cannot serve as a shortcut to determining whether a set of districts unlawfully dilutes minority voting strength. Pp. 1017-1021.

(d) This Court need not reach the United States' argument that proportionality should be assessed only on a statewide basis in cases challenging districts for electing a body with statewide jurisdiction. The argument would recast this litigation as it comes before the Court, for up until now the dilution claims have been litigated not on a statewide basis, but on a smaller geographical scale. Pp. 1021-1022.

3. The District Court's decision to leave undisturbed the State's plan for Senate districts was correct. However, in reaching its decision, the court once again misapprehended the legal test for vote dilution. As in the case of the House districts, the totality of circumstances appears not to support a finding of dilution in the Senate districts. Pp. 1023-1024.

815 F.Supp. 1550, affirmed in part and reversed in part.

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Souter, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and Blackmun, Stevens, O'Connor, and Ginsburg, JJ., joined, and in all but Parts III-B-2, III-B-4, and IV of which Kennedy, J., joined. O'Connor, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 1025. Kennedy, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, post, p. 1026. Thomas, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Scalia, J., joined, post, p. 1031.

Joel I. Klein argued the cause for appellants in No. 92-519 and appellees in Nos. 92-593 and 92-767. With him on the brief for appellees in Nos. 92-593 and 92-767 were Stephen N. Zack, Keith E. Hope, Richard E. Doran, George L. Waas, and Gerald B. Curington. Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., Scott A. Sinder, Kevin X. Crowley, James A. Peters, and Messrs. Doran, Waas, and Curington filed briefs for appellants in No. 92-519.

James A. Feldman argued the cause for the United States in all cases. With him on the briefs were Solicitor General Days, Acting Solicitor General Bryson, Acting Assistant Attorney General Turner, Acting Deputy Solicitor General Kneedler, and Jessica Dunsay Silver.

C. Allen Foster argued the cause for appellees in No. 92- 519 and appellants in No. 92-593. With him on the briefs were Robert N. Hunter, Jr., Benjamin L. Ginsberg, Marshall R. Hurley, E. Thom Rumberger, and George N. Meros, Jr. E. Barrett Prettyman, Jr., John C. Keeney, Jr., Charles G. Burr, Dennis Courtland Hayes, and Willie Abrams filed a brief in all cases for appellee Florida State Conference of NAACP Branches.[†]

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Justice Souter delivered the opinion of the Court.

These consolidated cases are about the meaning of vote dilution and the facts required to show it, when § 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is applied to challenges to single member legislative districts. See 79 Stat. 437, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 1973. We hold that no violation of § 2 can be found here, where, in spite of continuing discrimination and racial bloc voting, minority voters form effective voting majorities in a number of districts roughly proportional to the minority voters' respective shares in the voting-age population. While such proportionality is not dispositive in a challenge to single-member districting, it is a relevant fact in the totality of circumstances to be analyzed when determining whether members of a minority group have "less opportunity than other members of the electorate to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice." Ibid.

I

On the first day of Florida's 1992 legislative session, a group of Hispanic voters including Miguel De Grandy (De Grandy plaintiffs) complained in the United States District Court against the speaker of Florida's House of Representatives, the president of its Senate, the Governor, and other state officials (State). The complainants alleged that the districts from which Florida voters had chosen their state senators and representatives since 1982 were malapportioned, failing to reflect changes in the State's population during the ensuing decade. The State Conference of NAACP Branches and individual black voters (NAACP

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plaintiffs) filed a similar suit, which the three-judge District Court consolidated with the De Grandy case.[1]

Several months after the first complaint was filed, on April 10, 1992, the state legislature adopted Senate Joint Resolution 2-G (SJR 2-G), providing the reapportionment plan currently at issue. The plan called for dividing Florida into 40 single-member Senate, and 120 single-member House, districts based on population data from the 1990 census. As the Constitution of Florida required, the state attorney general then petitioned the Supreme Court of Florida for a declaratory judgment that the legislature's apportionment plan was valid under federal and state law. See Fla. Const., Art. III, § 16(c). The court so declared, while acknowledging that state constitutional time constraints precluded full review for conformity with § 2 of the Voting Rights Act and recognizing the right of any interested party to bring a § 2 challenge to the plan in the Supreme Court of Florida. See In re Constitutionality of Senate Joint Resolution 2G, Special Apportionment Session 1992, 597 So.2d 276, 285-286(1992).[2]

The De Grandy and NAACP plaintiffs responded to SJR 2-G by amending their federal complaints to charge the new

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reapportionment plan with violating § 2.[3] They claimed that SJR 2-G " 'unlawfully fragments cohesive minority communities and otherwise impermissibly submerges their right to vote and to participate in the electoral process,' " and they pointed to areas around the State where black or Hispanic populations could have formed a voting majority in a politically cohesive, reasonably compact district (or in more than one), if SJR 2-G had not fragmented each group among several...

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