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Davis v. Bandemer


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478 U.S. 109 (1986), argued 7 Oct. 1985, decided 30 June 1986: for justiciability by vote of 6 to 3, White for the Court, O’Connor, Burger, and Rehnquist in dissent; against merits by vote of 7 to 2, White for the Court, Powell and Stevens in dissent. Two central issues were posed in this case, in which Democrats contended that Indiana state legislative district lines were drawn by Republicans for partisan advantage: (1) is political gerrymandering justiciable? and, if so, (2) did the districting in Indiana violate the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause? In a complex division, the Court answered yes (6–3) to the first question and no (7–2) to the second. The plurality opinion, upholding both outcomes, was written by Justice Byron White for himself, William Brennan, Thurgood Marshall, and Harry Blackmun. Lewis Powell and John Paul Stevens would have upheld a district court decision that responded positively to both questions. The three remaining justices, Sandra Day O’Connor, Warren Burger, and William Rehnquist, would have reversed the lower court's judgment invalidating the Indiana districting on the ground that political gerrymandering claims were nonjusticiable.

The plurality opinion concluded that political gerrymandering is subject to judicial scrutiny, but only where there is “continued frustration of the will of a majority of the voters or a denial to a minority of voters of a fair chance to influence the political process” (p. 133). The opinion found no evidence that Indiana's 1981 redistricting consigned the opposition party to seemingly perpetual minority status throughout the decade regardless of voting trends.

Davis v. Bandemer drew widespread attention. Ironically, amicus curiae briefs were filed by the Republican National Committee supporting Indiana's Democrats and by California's Democratic congressional delegation in support of the Republican redistricting—in both instances reflecting concerns outside Indiana. Some legislative and congressional redistrictings after the 1990 census were expected to trigger appeals to the Supreme Court to apply the 1986 ruling's guidelines.

Gordon E. Baker

Subjects: Law.


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