Case Summary

Following a series of cases that struck down the state's congressional statutes as violating the U.S. Constitution's equal population requirement, the Missouri General Assembly enacted a new congressional districting statute in 1967 that contained population variances as high as 3.13% above, and as low as 2.84% below, the "ideal" district population. Several Missouri voters challenged the 1967 plan in federal court, alleging that the variances still violated the equal population requirement of Art. I, Sec. 2. The District Court ruled for the plaintiffs, finding that the General Assembly had not relied on census data when making their plan but instead had used less accurate data and that the 1967 plan's districts violated the "as nearly as practicable" equal population standard because the General Assembly had rejected a plan submitted to it that would have produced similar districts but with dramatically smaller population variances.

In 1969, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the District Court's ruling, finding that the 1967 congressional plan violated the equal population requirement of Art. I, Sec. 2. The Court rejected the state's argument that the variances were "de minimis," stating that the recognition of some fixed numerical or percentage population variance small enough as to not require justification would undermine the entire premise and goal of equal representation provided by the "as nearly as is practicable" equal population standard. Similarly, the Court rejected the State's attempt to justify the variances as resulting from the State's use of eligible voter population, as opposed to total population, when drawing the districts. Without definitively stating whether congressional apportionments could be made on a basis other than total population under Art. I, Sec. 2, the Court explained that Missouri's congressional plan would still be invalid because Missouri failed to clearly ascertain the exact number of eligible voters in each district and to apportion their districts in accordance therewith.

Significance: The "as nearly as is practicable" equal population requirement for congressional districts under Art. I, Section 2 does not permit any "de minimis" deviations from population equality, no matter how small.

Case Library

U.S. Supreme Court - 394 U.S. 526 (1969)