Miller v. Johnson

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515 U.S. 900 (1995), argued 19 Apr. 1995, decided 29 June 1995 by a vote of 5 to 4; Kennedy for the Court, O’Connor concurring, Stevens and Ginsburg in dissent. In this case, the Supreme Court reaffirmed and attempted to clarify its holding in Shaw v. Reno (1993) concerning the constitutionality of racial gerrymanders.

According to the 1990 census, Georgia's population was 27 percent black, and the state was entitled to eleven congressional representatives. Under section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Department of Justice refused to approve the legislature's first two redistricting plans because each contained only two majority-black districts. Georgia then passed a congressional redistricting plan that contained three majority-black districts. Five white residents from the additional majority-black district challenged the constitutionality of the revised plan as a racial gerrymander.

The Court found that the burden on plaintiffs in racial gerrymandering cases is to demonstrate that race is the “predominant factor” in the decision to place voters within a particular district; district shape, which was the focus of the inquiry in Shaw, was relegated to evidentiary status. The plaintiffs in this case met that burden, primarily by providing evidence that the Georgia legislature had adopted the revised plan only because the Department of Justice had insisted on a third majority-black district. The plan, therefore, was subject to strict scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause, and was found unconstitutional because section 5 of the Voting Rights Act did not require the existence of a third majority-black district.

The dissenting justices reasserted their view that Shaw was wrongly decided, and questioned the continuing wisdom of applying the Court's vague standard in a way that subjected routine redistricting decisions to judicial review. Together, Shaw and Miller had the effect of placing many of majority-minority districts created in the 1990s in constitutional jeopardy.

Grant M. Hayden

Subjects: Law.

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