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decided*fn*: February 21, 1973.



Rehnquist, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Burger, C. J., and Stewart, White, and Blackmun, JJ., joined. Brennan, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which Douglas and Marshall, JJ., joined, post, p. 333. Powell, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the cases.

Author: Rehnquist

[ 410 U.S. Page 317]

 MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

Acting pursuant to the mandate of its newly revised state constitution,*fn1 the Virginia General Assembly enacted statutes apportioning the State for the election of members of its House of Delegates*fn2 and Senate.*fn3 Two suits were brought challenging the constitutionality of the House redistricting statute on the grounds that there were impermissible population variances in the districts, that the multimember districts diluted representation,*fn4 and that the use of multimember districts

[ 410 U.S. Page 318]

     constituted racial gerrymandering.*fn5 The Senate redistricting statute was attacked in a separate suit, which alleged that the city of Norfolk was unconstitutionally split into three districts, allocating Navy personnel "home-ported" in Norfolk to one district and isolating Negro voters in one district. Three three-judge district courts were convened to hear the suits pursuant to 28 U. S. C. §§ 2281 and 2284. The suits were consolidated and heard by the four judges who variously made up the three three-judge panels.

The consolidated District Court entered an interlocutory order that, inter alia, declared the legislative reapportionment statutes unconstitutional and enjoined the holding of elections in electoral districts other than those established by the court's opinion. Howell v. Mahan, 330 F.Supp. 1138, 1150 (ED Va. 1971). Appellants, the Secretary of the State Board of Elections and its members and the city of Virginia Beach, have appealed directly to this Court from those portions of the court's order, invoking our jurisdiction under 28 U. S. C. § 1253.


The statute apportioning the House provided for a combination of 52 single-member, multimember, and floater delegate districts from which 100 delegates would

[ 410 U.S. Page 319]

     be elected. As found by the lower court, the ideal district in Virginia consisted of 46,485 persons per delegate, and the maximum percentage variation from that ideal under the Act was 16.4% -- the 12th district being overrepresented by 6.8% and the 16th district being underrepresented by 9.6%.*fn6 The population ratio between these two districts was 1.18 to 1. The average percentage variance under the plan was +-3.89%, and the minimum population percentage necessary to elect a majority of the House was 49.29%. Of the 52 districts, 35 were within 4% of perfection and nine exceeded a 6% variance from the ideal. With one exception, the delegate districts followed political jurisdictional lines of the counties and cities. That exception, Fairfax County, was allotted 10 delegates but was divided into two five-member districts.

Relying on Kirkpatrick v. Preisler, 394 U.S. 526 (1969), Wells v. Rockefeller, 394 U.S. 542 (1969), and Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533 (1964), the District Court concluded that the 16.4% variation was sufficient to condemn the House statute under the "one person, one vote" doctrine. While it noted that the variances were traceable to the desire of the General Assembly to maintain the integrity of traditional county and city boundaries, and that it was impossible to draft district lines to overcome unconstitutional disparities and still maintain

[ 410 U.S. Page 320]

     such integrity, it held that the State proved no governmental necessity for strictly adhering to political subdivision lines. Accordingly, it undertook its own redistricting and devised a plan having a percentage variation of slightly over 10% from the ideal district, a percentage it believed came "within passable constitutional limits as 'a good-faith effort to achieve absolute equality.' Kirkpatrick v. Preisler . . . ." Howell v. Mahan, 330 F.Supp., at 1147-1148.

Appellants contend that the District Court's reliance on Kirkpatrick v. Preisler, supra, and Wells v. Rockefeller, supra, in striking down the General Assembly's reapportionment plan was erroneous, and that proper application of the standards enunciated in Reynolds v. Sims, supra, would have resulted in a finding that the statute was constitutional.

In Kirkpatrick v. Preisler and Wells v. Rockefeller, this Court invalidated state reapportionment statutes for federal congressional districts having maximum percentage deviations of 5.97% and 13.1% respectively. The express purpose of these cases was to elucidate the standard first announced in the holding of Wesberry v. Sanders, 376 U.S. 1 (1964), that "the command of Art. I, § 2, that Representatives be chosen 'by the People of the several States' means that as nearly as is practicable one man's vote in a congressional election is to be worth as much as another's." Id., at 7-8 (footnotes omitted). And it was concluded that that command "permits only the limited population variances which are unavoidable despite a good-faith effort to achieve absolute equality, or for which justification is shown." Kirkpatrick v. Preisler, supra, at 531. The principal question thus presented for review is whether or not the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment likewise permits only "the limited population variances which are unavoidable despite a good-faith

[ 410 U.S. Page 321]

     effort to achieve absolute equality" in the context of state legislative reapportionment.*fn7

This Court first recognized that the Equal Protection Clause requires both houses of a bicameral state legislature to be apportioned substantially on a population basis in Reynolds v. Sims, supra. In so doing, it suggested that in the implementation of the basic constitutional principle -- equality of population among the districts -- more flexibility was constitutionally permissible with respect to state legislative reapportionment than in congressional redistricting. Id., at 578. Consideration was given to the fact that, almost invariably, there is a significantly larger number of seats in state legislative bodies to be distributed within a State than congressional seats, and that therefore it may be feasible for a State to use political subdivision lines to a greater extent in establishing state legislative districts than congressional districts while still affording adequate statewide representation. Ibid. Another possible justification for deviation from population-based representation in state legislatures was stated to be:

"That of insuring some voice to political subdivisions, as political subdivisions. Several factors make more than insubstantial claims that a State can rationally consider according political subdivisions some independent representation in at least one body of the state legislature, as long as the basic standard of equality of population among districts is maintained. Local governmental entities are frequently charged with various responsibilities incident to the operation of state government. In many States much of the legislature's activity involves the enactment of so-called local legislation, directed only

[ 410 U.S. Page 322]

     to the concerns of particular political subdivisions. And a State may legitimately desire to construct districts along political subdivision lines to deter the possibilities of gerrymandering. . . ." Id., at 580-581.

The Court reiterated that the overriding objective in reapportionment must be "substantial equality of population among the various districts, so that the vote of any citizen is approximately equal in weight to that of any other citizen in the State." Id., at 579.

By contrast, the Court in Wesberry v. Sanders, supra, recognized no excuse for the failure to meet the objective of equal representation for equal numbers of people in congressional districting other than the practical impossibility of drawing equal districts with mathematical precision. Thus, whereas population alone has been the sole criterion of constitutionality in congressional redistricting under Art. I, § 2, broader latitude has been afforded the States under the Equal Protection Clause in state legislative redistricting because of the considerations enumerated in Reynolds v. Sims, supra. The dichotomy between the two lines of cases has consistently been maintained. In Kirkpatrick v. Preisler, for example, one asserted justification for population variances was that they were necessarily a result of the State's attempt to avoid fragmenting political subdivisions by drawing congressional district lines along existing political subdivision boundaries. This argument was rejected in the congressional context. But in Abate v. Mundt, 403 U.S. 182 (1971), an apportionment for a county legislature having a maximum deviation from equality of 11.9% was upheld in the face of an equal protection challenge, in part because New York had a long history of maintaining the integrity of existing local government units within the county.

[ 410 U.S. Page 323]

     Application of the "absolute equality" test of Kirkpatrick and Wells to state legislative redistricting may impair the normal functioning of state and local governments. Such an effect is readily apparent from an analysis of the District Court's plan in this case. Under Art. VII, §§ 2 and 3 of Virginia's Constitution, the General Assembly is given extensive power to enact special legislation regarding the organization of, and the exercise of governmental powers by, counties, cities, towns, and other political subdivisions. The statute redistricting the House of Delegates consistently sought to avoid the fragmentation of such subdivisions, assertedly to afford them a voice in Richmond to seek such local legislation.

The court's reapportionment, based on its application of Kirkpatrick and Wells, resulted in a maximum deviation of slightly over 10%,*fn8 as compared with the roughly 16% maximum variation found in the plan adopted by the legislature. But to achieve even this limit of variation, the court's plan extended single and multimember districts across subdivision lines in 12 instances, substituting population equality for subdivision representation. Scott County, for example, under the Assembly's plan was placed in the first district and its population of 24,376 voted with the 76,346 persons in Dickinson, Lee, and Wise Counties for two delegates. The district thus established deviated by 8.3% from the ideal. The court transferred five of Scott County's enumeration districts, containing 6,063 persons, to the contiguous second district composed of the city of Bristol, and Smyth and Washington Counties, population 87,041. Scott County's representation was thereby substantially reduced in the first district, and all but nonexistent in the second district.

[ 410 U.S. Page 324]

     The opportunity of its voters to champion local legislation relating to Scott County is virtually nil. The countervailing benefit resulting from the court's readjustment is the fact that the first district's deviation from the ideal is now reduced to 1.8%.

The city of Virginia Beach saw its position deteriorate in a similar manner under the court-imposed plan. Under the legislative plan, Virginia Beach constituted the 40th district and was allocated three delegates for its population of 172,106. The resulting under-representation was cured by providing a floterial district, the 42d, which also included portions of the cities of Chesapeake and Portsmouth. Under the court's plan, the 42d district was dissolved. Of its 32,651 persons that constituted the deviation from the ideal for the 40th district, 3,515 were placed in the 40th, and 29,136 were transferred to Norfolk's 39th district. The 39th district is a multimember district that includes the 307,951 persons who make up the population of the city of Norfolk. Thus, those Virginia Beach residents who cast their vote in the 39th district amount to only 8.6% of that district's population. In terms of practical politics, Virginia Beach complains that such representation is no representation at all so far as local legislation is concerned, and that those 29,136 people transferred to the 39th district have in that respect been effectively disenfranchised.

We conclude, therefore, that the constitutionality of Virginia's legislative redistricting plan was not to be judged by the more stringent standards that Kirkpatrick and Wells make applicable to congressional reapportionment, but instead by the equal protection test enunciated in Reynolds v. Sims, supra. We reaffirm its holding that "the Equal Protection Clause requires that a State make an honest and good faith effort to construct districts, in both houses of its legislature, as nearly of equal

[ 410 U.S. Page 325]

     population as is practicable." 377 U.S., at 577. We likewise reaffirm its conclusion that "so long as the divergences from a strict population standard are based on legitimate considerations incident to the effectuation of a rational state policy, some deviations from the equal-population principle are constitutionally permissible with respect to the apportionment of seats in either or both of the two houses of a bicameral state legislature." Id., at 579.

The asserted justification for the divergences in this case -- the State's policy of maintaining the integrity of political subdivision lines -- is not a new one to this Court. In Davis v. Mann, 377 U.S. 678, 686 (1964), it was noted:

"Because cities and counties have consistently not been split or divided for purposes of legislative representation, multimember districts have been utilized for cities and counties whose populations entitle them to more than a single representative . . . . And, because of a tradition of respecting the integrity of the boundaries of cities and counties in drawing district lines, districts have been constructed only of combinations of counties and cities and not by pieces of them. . . ."

The then-existing substantial deviation in the apportionment of both Houses defeated the constitutionality of Virginia's districting statutes in that case, but the possibility of maintaining the integrity of political subdivision lines in districting was not precluded so long as there existed "such minor deviations only as may occur in recognizing certain factors that are free from any taint of arbitrariness or discrimination." Roman v. Sincock, 377 U.S. 695, 710 (1964).

We are not prepared to say that the decision of the people of Virginia to grant the General Assembly the power to enact local legislation dealing with the political

[ 410 U.S. Page 326]

     subdivisions is irrational. And if that be so, the decision of the General Assembly to provide representation to subdivisions qua subdivisions in order to implement that constitutional power is likewise valid when measured against the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The inquiry then becomes whether it can reasonably be said that the state policy urged by Virginia to justify the divergences in the legislative reapportionment plan of the House is, indeed, furthered by the plan adopted by the legislature, and whether, if so justified, the divergences are also within tolerable limits. For a State's ...

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