Racial Gerrymandering

Racial Gerrymandering.—The Court's series of decisions interpreting the equal protection clause as requiring the apportionment and districting of state legislatures solely on a population basis21 had its beginning in Gomillion v. Lightfoot,22 in which the Court found a Fifteenth Amendment violation in the redrawing of a municipal boundary line into a 28-sided figure which excluded from the city all but four or five of 400 African Americans but no whites, and which thereby continued white domination of municipal elections. Subsequent decisions, particularly concerning the validity of multi-member districting and alleged dilution of minority voting power, were decided under the equal protection clause,23 and in City of Mobile v. Bolden,24 in the course of a considerably divided decision with respect to the requirement of discriminatory motivation in Fifteenth Amendment cases,25 a plurality of the Court sought to restrict the Fifteenth Amendment to cases in which there is official denial or abridgment of the right to register and vote, and to exclude indirect dilution claims.26 Congressional amendment of § 2 of the Voting Rights Act may obviate the further development of constitutional jurisprudence in this area, however.27

21 See "Apportionment and Districting," supra.

22 364 U.S. 339 (1960). See also Wright v. Rockefeller, 376 U.S. 52 (1964).

23 E.g., Whitcomb v. Chavis, 403 U.S. 124 (1971); White v. Regester, 412 U.S. 755 (1973).

24 446 U.S. 55 (1980).

25 On the issue of motivation versus impact under the equal protection clause, see discussion of "Testing Facially Neutral Classifications Which Impact on Minorities" in the Fourteenth Amendment, supra. On the plurality's view, see 446 U.S. at 61-65. Justice White appears clearly to agree that purposeful discrimination is a necessary component of equal protection clause violation, and may have agreed as well that the same requirement applies under the Fifteenth Amendment. Id. at 94- 103. Only Justice Marshall unambiguously adhered to the view that discriminatory effect is sufficient. Id. at 125. See also Beer v. United States, 425 U.S. 130, 146- 49 & nn.3-5 (1976) (dissenting).

26 446 U.S. at 65. At least three Justices disagreed with this view and would apply the Fifteenth Amendment to vote dilution claims. Id. at 84 n.3 (Justice Stevens concurring), 102 (Justice White dissenting), 125-35 (Justice Marshall dissenting). The issue was reserved in Rogers v. Lodge, 458 U.S. 613, 619 n.6 (1982).

27 See Voting Rights Act Amendments of 1982, Pub. L. 97-205, 96 Stat. 131, amending 42 U.S.C. § 1973. The Supreme Court interpreted the 1982 amendments to section 2 in Thornburg v. Gingles, 478 U.S. 30 (1986), determining that Congress had effectively overruled the City of Mobile intent standard in returning to a "totality of the circumstances" results test.

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Last modified: June 9, 2014