Vieth v. Jubelirer – Case Brief Summary

Summary of Vieth v. Jubelirer, 541 U.S. 267, 124 S. Ct. 1769, 158 L. Ed. 2d 546 (2004).

Facts

Pennsylvania’s General Assembly passed a redistricting plan after the state lost two seats in the House of Representatives. Republicans controlled the governor’s office and both houses of the state legislature.

Vieth et al. (Ps), residents of Pennsylvania registered to vote as Democrats, brought suit in federal district court against the State and officers involved in implementing the plan (Jubelirer et al., Ds). Vieth alleged that the plan violated the “one person one vote” requirement of Article I Section 2 of the United States Constitution, and that the plan was a political gerrymander in violation of Article I and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Jubelirer moved to dismiss. The three judge panel granted the motion to dismiss the political gerrymandering claim. The court dismissed the remaining claims against the State on Eleventh Amendment grounds, but did not dismiss the other claims against Jubelirer and the other remaining defendants.

At trial, the court entered judgment for Vieth and retained jurisdiction over the case pending the court’s approval of a new plan. The governor then signed into law a new redistricting plan designed to cure the apportionment problem. Vieth moved to impose their own new redistricting plan in favor of the State’s new plan on the same grounds as its predecessor. The district court denied Vieth’s motion, holding that the State’s new plan was not malapportioned. Vieth appealed and the Supreme Court granted cert.

Issue

  • Is political gerrymandering nonjusticiable?

Holding and Rule (Scalia)

  • Yes. Political gerrymandering is nonjusticiable.

No judicially discernible and manageable standards for adjudicating claims of gerrymandering exist. The plurality therefore would overrule Davis v. Bandemer. In Bandemer, the Court held that such claims are justiciable but could not agree upon a standard for assessing political gerrymandering claims under the facts.

The Framers provided a remedy for the problem of gerrymandering: the Constitution gives state legislatures the initial power to draw federal election districts, but authorizes Congress to “make or alter” those districts. In Bandemer, the Court held that the Equal Protection Clause also grants judges the power and duty to control that practice. However, neither Article I, §2 or §4, nor the Equal Protection Clause, provides a judicially enforceable limit on the political considerations that the States and Congress may take into account when districting.

One of the tests for nonjusticiability or political question is a lack of judicially discoverable and manageable standards for resolving the question (see Baker v. Carr). The court held that because the Bandemer court was unable to discern what the standards for deciding gerrymandering cases might be, and because no standards could be discerned in the following eighteen years, such issues are in fact nonjusticiable.

Concurrence (Kennedy)

I would not foreclose all possibility of judicial relief if some limited and precise rationale were found to correct an established Constitutional violation. There is a fundamental lack of comprehensive and neutral principles for drawing electoral boundaries, and an absence of rules to limit and confine judicial intervention.

A determination that a gerrymander violates the law must rest on a conclusion that the classifications, though generally permissible, were applied in an invidious manner or in a way unrelated to any legitimate legislative objective. With no agreed upon substantive principles of fair districting, there is no basis on which to define clear, manageable, and politically neutral standards for measuring the burden a given partisan classification imposes on representational rights. Suitable standards for measuring this burden are critical to our intervention.

Arguments for holding cases like this to be nonjusticiable are not so compelling that they require the Court now to bar all future partisan gerrymandering claims. That a workable standard for measuring a gerrymander’s burden on representational rights has not yet emerged does not mean that none will emerge in the future. The Court should adjudicate only what is in the case before it.

Disposition

Judgment affirmed.

Notes

There was no majority opinion in this case. There were four justices in favor of Scalia’s opinion and a concurrence by Kennedy. This case therefore did not overrule Davis v. Bandemer.


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