Bush v. Vera
Annotate this Case
517 U.S. 952 (1996)
OCTOBER TERM, 1995
BUSH, GOVERNOR OF TEXAS, ET AL. v. VERA ET AL.
APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS
No. 94-805. Argued December 5, 1995-Decided June 13, 1996*
Because the 1990 census revealed a population increase entitling Texas to three additional congressional seats, and in an attempt to comply with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), the Texas Legislature promulgated a redistricting plan that, among other things, created District 30 as a new majority-African-American district in Dallas County and District 29 as a new majority-Hispanic district in Harris County, and reconfigured District 18, which is adjacent to District 29, as a majorityAfrican-American district. After the Department of Justice precleared the plan under VRA § 5, the plaintiffs, six Texas voters, filed this challenge alleging that 24 of the State's 30 congressional districts constitute racial gerrymanders in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The three-judge District Court held Districts 18, 29, and 30 unconstitutional. The Governor of Texas, private intervenors, and the United States (as intervenor) appeal.
Held: The judgment is affirmed. 861 F. Supp. 1304, affirmed.
JUSTICE O'CONNOR, joined by THE CHIEF JUSTICE and JUSTICE KENNEDY, concluded:
1. Plaintiff Chen, who resides in District 25 and has not alleged any specific facts showing that he personally has been subjected to any racial classification, lacks standing under United States v. Hays, 515 U. S. 737, 744-745. But plaintiffs Blum and Powers, who reside in District 18, plaintiffs Thomas and Vera, who reside in District 29, and plaintiff Orcutt, who resides in District 30, have standing to challenge Districts 18,29, and 30. See, e. g., ibid. pp. 957-958.
2. Districts 18, 29, and 30 are subject to strict scrutiny under this Court's precedents. Pp. 958-976.
(a) Strict scrutiny applies where race was "the predominant factor" motivating the drawing of district lines, see, e. g., Miller v. Johnson, 515 U. S. 900, 916 (emphasis added), and traditional, raceneutral districting principles were subordinated to race, see ibid. This is a mixed motive suit, and a careful review is therefore necessary to
*Together with No. 94-806, Lawson et al. v. Vera et al., and No. 94-988, United States v. Vera et al., also on appeal from the same court.
determine whether the districts at issue are subject to such scrutiny. Findings that Texas substantially neglected traditional districting criteria such as compactness, that it was committed from the outset to creating majority-minority districts, and that it manipulated district lines to exploit unprecedentedly detailed racial data, taken together, weigh in favor of the application of strict scrutiny. However, because factors other than race, particularly incumbency protection, clearly influenced the legislature, each of the challenged districts must be scrutinized to determine whether the District Court's conclusion that race predominated can be sustained. Pp. 958-965.
(b) District 30 is subject to strict scrutiny. Appellants do not deny that the district shows substantial disregard for the traditional districting principles of compactness and regularity, or that the redistricters pursued unwaveringly the objective of creating a majority-AfricanAmerican district. Their argument that the district's bizarre shape is explained by efforts to unite communities of interest, as manifested by the district's consistently urban character and its shared media sources and major transportation lines to Dallas, must be rejected. The record contains no basis for displacing the District Court's conclusion that race predominated over the latter factors, particularly in light of the court's findings that the State's supporting data were largely unavailable to the legislature before the district was created and that the factors do not differentiate the district from surrounding areas with the same degree of correlation to district lines that racial data exhibit. Appellants' more substantial claim that incumbency protection rivaled race in determining the district's shape is also unavailing. The evidence amply supports the District Court's conclusions that racially motivated gerrymandering had a qualitatively greater influence on the drawing of district lines than politically motivated gerrymandering, which is not subject to strict scrutiny, see Davis v. Bandemer, 478 U. S. 109, 132 (White, J., plurality opinion); and that political gerrymandering was accomplished in large part by the use of race as a proxy for political characteristics, which is subject to such scrutiny, cf. Powers v. Ohio, 499 U. S. 400, 410. Pp. 965-973.
(c) Interlocking Districts 18 and 29 are also subject to strict scrutiny. Those districts' shapes are bizarre, and their utter disregard of city limits, local election precincts, and voter tabulation district lines has caused a severe disruption of traditional forms of political activity and created administrative headaches for local election officials. Although appellants adduced evidence that incumbency protection played a role in determining the bizarre district lines, the District Court's conclusion that the districts' shapes are unexplainable on grounds other than race and, as such, are the product of presumptively
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