Karcher v. Daggett
462 U.S. 725 (1983)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Karcher v. Daggett, 462 U.S. 725 (1983)

Karcher v. Daggett

No. 81-2057

Argued March 2, 1983

Decided June 22, 1983

462 U.S. 725


As a result of the 1980 census, the New Jersey Legislature reapportioned the State's congressional districts. The reapportionment plan contained 14 districts, with an average population per district of 526,059, each district, on the average, differing from the "ideal" figure by 0.1384%. The largest district (Fourth District) had a population of 527,472, and the smallest (Sixth District) had a population of 523,798, the difference between them being 0.6984% of the average district. In a suit by a group of individuals challenging the plan's validity, the District Court held that the plan violated Art. I, § 2, of the Constitution because the population deviations among districts, although small, were not the result of a good faith effort to achieve population equality.


1. The "equal representation" standard of Art. I, § 2, requires that congressional districts be apportioned to achieve population equality as nearly as is practicable. Parties challenging apportionment legislation bear the burden of proving that population differences among districts could have been reduced or eliminated by a good faith effort to draw districts of equal population. If the plaintiffs carry their burden, the State must then bear the burden of proving that each significant variance between districts was necessary to achieve some legitimate goal. Cf. Kirkpatrick v. Preisler, 394 U. S. 526; White v. Weiser, 412 U. S. 783. Pp. 462 U. S. 730-731.

2. New Jersey's plan may not be regarded per se as the product of a good faith effort to achieve population equality merely because the maximum population deviation among districts is smaller than the predictable undercount in available census data. Pp. 462 U. S. 731-740.

(a) The "as nearly as practicable" standard for apportioning congressional districts

"is inconsistent with adoption of fixed numerical standards which excuse population variances without regard to the circumstances of each particular case."

Kirkpatrick, supra, at 394 U. S. 530. Only the principle of population equality as developed in Kirkpatrick, supra, and Wesberry v. Sanders, 376 U. S. 1, reflects the aspirations of Art. I, § 2. There are no de minimis population variations, which could practicably

Page 462 U. S. 726

be avoided, that may be considered as meeting the standard of Art. I, § 2, without justification. Pp. 462 U. S. 731-734.

(b) There is no merit to the contention that population deviation from ideal district size should be considered to be the functional equivalent of zero as a matter of law where that deviation is less than the predictable undercount in census figures. Even assuming that the extent to which the census system systematically undercounts actual population can be precisely determined, it would not be relevant. The census count provides the only reliable -- albeit less than perfect -- indication of the districts' "real" relative population levels, and furnishes the only basis for good faith attempts to achieve population equality. Pp. 462 U. S. 735-738.

(c) The population differences involved here could have been avoided or significantly reduced with a good faith effort to achieve population equality. Resort to the simple device of transferring entire political subdivisions of known population between contiguous districts would have produced districts much closer to numerical equality. Thus, the District Court did not err in finding that the plaintiffs met their burden of showing that the plan did not come as nearly as practicable to population equality. Pp. 462 U. S. 738-740.

3. The District Court properly found that the defendants did not meet their burden of proving that the population deviations in the plan were necessary to achieve a consistent, nondiscriminatory legislative policy. The State must show with specificity that a particular objective required the specific deviations in its plan. The primary justification asserted was that of preserving the voting strength of racial minority groups, but appellants failed to show that the specific population disparities were necessary to preserve minority voting strength. Pp. 462 U. S. 740-744.

535 F.Supp. 978, affirmed.

BRENNAN,J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which MARSHALL, BLACKMUN,STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. STEVENS,J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 462 U. S. 744. WHITE,J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and POWELL and REHNQUIST,JJ., joined, post, p. 462 U. S. 765. POWELL,J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 462 U. S. 784.

Page 462 U. S. 727

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