Caucus v. Alabama

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation135 S.Ct. 1257,191 L.Ed.2d 314
Docket Number13–1138.,Nos. 13–895,s. 13–895
PartiesALABAMA LEGISLATIVE BLACK CAUCUS, et al., Appellants v. ALABAMA et al. Alabama Democratic Conference, et al., Appellants v. Alabama et al.
Decision Date25 March 2015

135 S.Ct. 1257
191 L.Ed.2d 314

ALABAMA et al.
Alabama Democratic Conference, et al., Appellants
Alabama et al.

Nos. 13–895

Supreme Court of the United States

Argued Nov. 12, 2014.
Decided March 25, 2015.

135 S.Ct. 1262

Richard H. Pildes, New York, NY, for Appellants in No. 13–1138.

Eric Schnapper, Seattle, WA, for Appellants in No. 13–895.

Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., for the United States as amicus curiae, by special leave of the Court, supporting neither party.

Andrew L. Brasher, Solicitor General, for Respondents.

Eric Schnapper, Counsel of Record, Seattle, WA, James U. Blacksher, Birmingham, AL, Edward Still, Birmingham, AL, U.W. Clemon, White Arnold & Dowd P.C., Birmingham, AL, for Appellants.

Dorman Walker, Deputy Attorney General, Balch & Bingham LLP, Montgomery, AL, Counsel for Appellees Gerald Dial, Alabama Senator, and Jim McClendon, Alabama Representative.

Luther Strange, Alabama Attorney General, Andrew L. Brasher, Counsel of Record, Solicitor General, Megan A. Kirkpatrick, Assistant Solicitor General, John J. Park, Jr., Deputy Attorney General, Office of Ala. Att'y Gen., Montgomery, AL, for Appellees Alabama and Jim Bennett, Alabama Secretary of State.

Edward Still, Birmingham, AL, U.W. Clemon, White Arnold & Dowd P.C., Birmingham, AL, James U. Blacksher, Counsel of Record, Birmingham, AL, for Appellants Alabama Legislative Black Caucus et al.

James H. Anderson, William F. Patty, Brannan W. Reaves, Jackson, Anderson & Patty, P.C., Montgomery, AL, Paul M. Smith, Jessica Ring Amunson, Mark P. Gaber, Jenner & Block LLP, Washington, DC, Richard H. Pildes, Counsel of Record, New York, NY, John K. Tanner, Washington, DC, Walter S. Turner, Montgomery, AL, Kevin Russell, Goldstein & Russell, P.C., Bethesda, MD, for Appellants.

John K. Tanner, Washington, DC, Joe M. Reed, Joe M. Reed & Associates, LLC, Montgomery, AL, Sam Heldman, The Gardner Firm, PC, Washington DC, James H. Anderson, Counsel of Record, William F. Patty, Brannan W. Reaves, Jackson, Anderson & Patty, P.C., Montgomery, AL, Walter S. Turner, Montgomery, AL, for Appellants Alabama Democratic Conference, et al.


Justice BREYERdelivered the opinion of the Court.

The Alabama Legislative Black Caucus and the Alabama Democratic Conference appeal a three-judge Federal District Court decision rejecting their challenges to the lawfulness of Alabama's 2012 redistricting of its State House of Representatives and State Senate. The appeals focus upon the appellants' claims that new district boundaries create “racial gerrymanders” in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. See, e.g.,Shaw v. Hunt,517 U.S. 899, 907–908, 116 S.Ct. 1894, 135 L.Ed.2d 207 (1996)(Shaw II) (Fourteenth Amendment forbids use of race as “ ‘predominant’ ” district boundary-drawing “ ‘factor’ ” unless boundaries are “narrowly tailored” to achieve a “ ‘compelling state interest’ ” (citations omitted)). We find that the District Court applied incorrect legal standards in evaluating the claims. We consequently vacate its decision

135 S.Ct. 1263

and remand the cases for further proceedings.


The Alabama Constitution requires the legislature to reapportion its State House and Senate electoral districts following each decennial census. Ala. Const., Art. IX, §§ 199–200. In 2012 Alabama redrew the boundaries of the State's 105 House districts and 35 Senate districts. 2012 Ala. Acts no. 602 (House plan); id.,at no. 603 (Senate plan) (Acts). In doing so, Alabama sought to achieve numerous traditional districting objectives, such as compactness, not splitting counties or precincts, minimizing change, and protecting incumbents. But it placed yet greater importance on achieving two other goals. See Alabama Legislature Reapportionment Committee Guidelines in No. 12–cv–691, Doc. 30–4, pp. 3–5 (Committee Guidelines).

First, it sought to minimize the extent to which a district might deviate from the theoretical ideal of precisely equal population. In particular, it set as a goal creating a set of districts in which no district would deviate from the theoretical, precisely equal ideal by more than 1%—i.e., a more rigorous deviation standard than our precedents have found necessary under the Constitution. See Brown v. Thomson,462 U.S. 835, 842, 103 S.Ct. 2690, 77 L.Ed.2d 214 (1983)(5% deviation from ideal generally permissible). No one here doubts the desirability of a State's efforts generally to come close to a one-person, one-vote ideal.

Second, it sought to ensure compliance with federal law, and, in particular, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. 79 Stat. 439, as amended, 52 U.S.C. § 10301 et seq.At the time of the redistricting Alabama was a covered jurisdiction under that Act. Accordingly § 5 of the Act required Alabama to demonstrate that an electoral change, such as redistricting, would not bring about retrogression in respect to racial minorities' “ability ... to elect their preferred candidates of choice.” 52 U.S.C. § 10304(b). Specifically, Alabama believed that, to avoid retrogression under § 5, it was required to maintain roughly the same black population percentage in existing majority-minority districts. See Appendix B, infra.

Compliance with these two goals posed particular difficulties with respect to many of the State's 35 majority-minority districts (8 in the Senate, 27 in the House). That is because many of these districts were (compared with the average district) underpopulated. In order for Senate District 26, for example, to meet the State's no–more–than–1% population-deviation objective, the State would have to add about 16,000 individuals to the district. And, prior to redistricting, 72.75% of District 26's population was black. Accordingly, Alabama's plan added 15,785 new individuals, and only 36 of those newly added individuals were white.

This suit, as it appears before us, focuses in large part upon Alabama's efforts to achieve these two goals. The Caucus and the Conference basically claim that the State, in adding so many new minority voters to majority-minority districts (and to others), went too far. They allege the State created a constitutionally forbidden “racial gerrymander”—a gerrymander that (e.g.,when the State adds more minority voters than needed for a minority group to elect a candidate of its choice) might, among other things, harm the very minority voters that Acts such as the Voting Rights Act sought to help.

After a bench trial, the Federal District Court held in favor of the State, i.e.,against the Caucus and the Conference, with respect to their racial gerrymandering

135 S.Ct. 1264

claims as well as with respect to several other legal claims that the Caucus and the Conference had made. With respect to racial gerrymandering, the District Court recognized that electoral districting violates the Equal Protection Clause when (1) race is the “dominant and controlling” or “predominant” consideration in deciding “to place a significant number of voters within or without a particular district,” Miller v. Johnson,515 U.S. 900, 913, 916, 115 S.Ct. 2475, 132 L.Ed.2d 762 (1995), and (2) the use of race is not “narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest,” Shaw II,517 U.S., at 902, 116 S.Ct. 1894; see also Shaw v. Reno,509 U.S. 630, 649, 113 S.Ct. 2816, 125 L.Ed.2d 511 (1993)(Shaw I ) (Constitution forbids “separat[ion of] voters into different districts on the basis of race” when the separation “lacks sufficient justification”); Bush v. Vera,517 U.S. 952, 958–959, 976, 116 S.Ct. 1941, 135 L.Ed.2d 248 (1996)(principal opinion of O'Connor, J.) (same). But, after trial the District Court held (2 to 1) that the Caucus and the Conference had failed to prove their racial gerrymandering claims. The Caucus along with the Conference (and several other plaintiffs) appealed. We noted probable jurisdiction with respect to the racial gerrymandering claims. 572 U.S. ––––, 134 S.Ct. 2697, 189 L.Ed.2d 739 (2014).

We shall focus upon four critical District Court determinations underlying its ultimate “no violation” conclusion. They concern:

1. The Geographical Nature of the Racial Gerrymandering Claims. The District Court characterized the appellants' claims as falling into two categories. In the District Court's view, both appellants had argued “that the Acts as a wholeconstitute racial gerrymanders,” 989 F.Supp.2d 1227, 1287 (M.D.Ala.2013)(emphasis added), and one of the appellants (the Conference) had also argued that the State had racially gerrymandered four specific electoral districts, Senate Districts 7, 11, 22, and 26, id., at 1288.
2. Standing. The District Court held that the Caucus had standing to argue its racial gerrymandering claim with respect to the State “as a whole.” But the Conference lacked standing to make any of its racial gerrymandering claims—the claim requiring consideration of the State “as a whole,” and the claims requiring consideration of four individual Senate districts. Id., at 1292.
3. Racial Predominance. The District Court held that, in any event, the appellants' claims must fail because race “was not the predominant motivating factor” either (a) “for the Acts as a whole” or (b) with respect to “Senate Districts 7, 11, 22, or 26.” Id., at 1293.
4. Narrow

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