Lawyer v. Department of Justice
521 U.S. 567 (1997)

Annotate this Case

OCTOBER TERM, 1996

Syllabus

LAWYER v. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE ET AL.

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF FLORIDA

No. 95-2024. Argued February 19, 1997-Decided June 25,1997

Based on the 1990 census, the Florida Legislature adopted a reapportionment plan for State Senate and House districts. When the Justice Department refused to preclear the plan, the State Supreme Court entered an order encouraging the state legislature to adopt a new plan. Advised that the Governor would not convene an extraordinary session and that neither the Senate President nor the House Speaker would convene his respective House, the court concluded that legislative impasse had occurred and revised the redistricting plan itself producing Plan 330. In 1995, appellant and other residents of Senate District 21 as revised in Plan 330 filed suit against state and federal parties in the Federal District Court, alleging that District 21 violated the Equal Protection Clause. The three-judge court permitted intervention by the State Senate, the House of Representatives, and others. Ultimately, all the parties but appellant agreed to a settlement that would revise District 21 under a new plan, Plan 386. At a hearing, the District Court rejected appellant's objections that the court was obliged to find Plan 330 unconstitutional before approving the settlement, and that Plan 386 was unconstitutional under Miller v. Johnson, 515 U. S. 900, because only race could explain District 21's contours. The court approved the settlement.

Held:

1. The District Court did not err in approving the settlement agreement without formally holding Plan 330 unconstitutional. Pp. 575-580.

(a) State redistricting responsibility should be accorded primacy to the extent possible when a federal court exercises remedial power. Growe v. Emison, 507 U. S. 25, 34. A State should be given the opportunity to make its own redistricting decision so long as that is practically possible and the State chooses to take the opportunity. Ibid.; Wise v. Lipscomb, 437 U. S. 535, 540. The District Court's decision did not deny the State's legislature and Supreme Court the opportunity to devise a new redistricting plan here, for the State has selected its opportunity by entering into the settlement agreement. There is no reason to suppose that the State's attorney general lacked authority to propose a plan as an incident of his authority to represent the State in the litigation, and the participation of counsel for each legislative chamber con-


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firms this authority as well as the legislature's continuing refusal to address the issue in formal session. The State has taken advantage of the opportunity recognized in Growe and Wise. Pp. 575-578.

(b) The District Court was not bound to adjudicate liability before settlement even though appellant refused to settle. The settlement agreement did not impermissibly impose duties or obligations on appellant or dispose of his claims. See Firefighters v. Cleveland, 478 U. S. 501,529. It disposed of his claim not in the forbidden sense of cutting him off from a remedy to which he was entitled, but only in the legitimate sense of granting him an element of the very relief he had sought: the elimination of the plan he claimed was unconstitutional. Insofar as appellant also wanted the new plan to be constitutional, he is in the same position he would have been with a formal decree: his views on Plan 386's merits were heard, and his right to attack it in this appeal is unimpaired. He may not demand the adjudication that the State could have demanded but instead waived. Pp. 578-580.

2. The District Court's finding that Plan 386 did not subordinate traditional districting principles to race is not clearly erroneous. See Miller v. Johnson, supra, at 915-917. Appellant's contrary claim is based on his charges that District 21 encompasses more than one county, crosses a body of water, is irregular in shape, lacks compactness, and contains a percentage of black voters significantly higher than the overall percentage in the counties from which the district is drawn. His first four points ignore unrefuted evidence showing that District 21 is no different from what Florida's traditional districting principles could have been expected to produce. As to the final point, this Court has never suggested that the percentage of black residents in a district may not exceed the percentage of black residents in any of the counties from which a district is created, and has never required similar racial composition of different political districts to avoid an inference of racial gerrymandering in anyone of them. Pp. 580-582.

920 F. Supp. 1248, affirmed.

SOUTER, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C. J., and STEVENS, GINSBURG, and BREYER, JJ., joined. SCALIA, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which O'CONNOR, KENNEDY, and THOMAS, JJ., joined, post, p. 583.

Robert J. Shapiro argued the cause for appellant. With him on the briefs was C. Martin Lawyer III, pro se.

Richard G. Taranto argued the cause for the state appellees. With him on the brief were Peter Antonacci, Deputy


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Full Text of Opinion

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