Whitcomb v. Chavis
403 U.S. 124 (1971)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Whitcomb v. Chavis, 403 U.S. 124 (1971)

Whitcomb v. Chavis

No. 92

Argued December 8, 1970

Decided June 7, 1971

403 U.S. 124

Syllabus

This suit was brought by residents of Marion and Lake Counties, Indiana, challenging state statutes establishing Marion County as a multi-member district for the election of state senators and representatives. It was alleged, first, that the laws invidiously diluted the votes of Negroes and poor persons living in the "ghetto area" of Marion County, and, second, that voters in multi-member districts were overrepresented, since the true test of voting power is the ability to cast a tie-breaking vote, and the voters in multi-member districts had a greater theoretical opportunity to cast such votes than voters in single member districts. The tendency of multi-member district legislators to vote as a bloc was alleged to compound this discrimination. The three-judge court, though not ruling squarely on the second claim, determined that a racial minority group with specific legislative interests inhabited a ghetto area in Indianapolis, in Marion County; that the statutes operated to minimize and cancel out the voting strength of this minority group; and that redistricting Marion County alone would leave impermissible variations between Marion districts and others in the State, thus requiring state-wide redistricting, which could not await 1970 census figures. The court held the statutes unconstitutional, and gave the State until October 1, 1969, to enact reapportionment legislation. No such legislation ensued, and the court drafted a plan using single member districts throughout the State. The 1970 elections were ordered to be held in accordance with the new plan. This Court granted a stay of judgment pending final action on the appeal, thus permitting the 1970 elections to be held under the condemned statutes. Under those statutes, based on the 1960 census, there was a maximum variance in population of senate districts of 28.20%, with a ratio between the largest and smallest districts of 1.327 to 1, and a maximum variance in house districts of 24.78%, with a ratio of 1.279 to 1.

Held: The judgment is reversed, and the case remanded. Pp. 403 U. S. 140-170; 403 U. S. 179-180.

305 F.Supp. 1364, reversed and remanded.

Page 403 U. S. 125

MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I-VI, finding that:

1. Although, as the Court was advised on June 1, 1971, the Indiana legislature enacted new apportionment legislation providing for state-wide single member house and senate districts, the case is not moot. Pp. 403 U. S. 140-141.

2. The validity of multi-member districts is justiciable, but a challenger has the burden of proving that such districts unconstitutionally operate to dilute or cancel the voting strength of racial or political groups. Pp. 403 U. S. 141-144.

3. The actual, as distinguished from theoretical, impact of multi-member districts on individual voting power has not been sufficiently demonstrated on this record to warrant departure from prior cases involving multi-member districts, and neither the findings below nor the record sustains the view that multi-member districts overrepresent their voters as compared with voters in single-member districts, even if the multi-member legislative delegation tends to bloc voting. Pp. 403 U. S. 144-148.

4. Appellees' claim that the fact that the number of ghetto residents who were legislators was not proportionate to ghetto population proves invidious discrimination, notwithstanding the absence of evidence that ghetto residents had less opportunity to participate in the political process, is not valid, and, on this record, the malproportion was due to the ghetto voters' choices' losing the election contests. Pp. 403 U. S. 148-155.

5. The trial court's conclusion that, with respect to their unique interests, ghetto residents were invidiously underrepresented due to lack of their own legislative voice, was not supported by the findings. Moreover, even assuming bloc voting by the county delegation contrary to the ghetto majority's wishes, there is no constitutional violation, since that situation inheres in the political process, whether the district be single- or multi-member. P. 403 U. S. 155.

6. Multi-member districts have not been proved inherently invidious or violative of equal protection, but, even assuming their unconstitutionality, it is not clear that the remedy is a single-member system with lines drawn to ensure representation to all sizable racial, ethnic, economic, or religious groups. Pp. 156-160.

7. The District Court erred in brushing aside the entire state apportionment policy without solid constitutional and equitable

Page 403 U. S. 126

grounds for doing so, and without considering more limited alternatives. Pp. 160-161.

MR. JUSTICE WHITE, joined by THE CHIEF JUSTICE, MR. JUSTICE BLACK, and MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN, concluded, in Part VII, that it was not improper for the District Court to order state-wide redistricting on the basis of the excessive population variances between the legislative districts shown by this record. That court ordered reapportionment not because of population shifts since its 1965 decision upholding the statutory plan, but because the disparities had been shown to be excessive by intervening decisions of this Court. Pp. 403 U. S. 161-163.

MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS, joined by MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN and MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL, concluded, with respect to redistricting the entire State, that there were impermissible population variances between districts under the current apportionment plan, and that the new Marion County districts would also have impermissible variances, thus requiring state-wide redistricting. Pp. 403 U. S. 179-180.

WHITE, J., announced the Court's judgment and delivered an opinion, of the Court with respect to Parts I-VI, in which BURGER, C.J., and BLACK, STEWART, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, and in which, as to Part VII, BURGER, C.J., and BLACK and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined. STEWART, J., filed a statement joining in Parts I-VI and dissenting from Part VII, post, p. 403 U. S. 163. HARLAN, J., filed a separate opinion, post, p. 403 U. S. 165. DOUGLAS, J., filed an opinion dissenting in part and concurring in the result in part, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 403 U. S. 171.

Page 403 U. S. 127

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