Case Summary

When Alabama redrew its legislative districts in 2012, it prioritized two goals above its other traditional redistricting objectives: keeping all districts' deviations less than 1% from the ideal equal population, and maintaining approximately the same black population percentage in existing majority-minority districts so as to avoid retrogression under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The Alabama Legislative Black Caucus, among others, challenged Alabama's new legislative plan as a racial gerrymander in violation of the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, analyzing the plaintiffs' racial gerrymandering claim as referring to the State "as a whole, rather than district-by-district," upheld the legislative districting plan on the grounds that race was not the predominant motivating factor when drawing the boundaries, precisely equal population was.

In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled the District Court's decision on two separate grounds. First, the Court held that the District Court erred in applying an "undifferentiated statewide" analysis to the plaintiffs' racial gerrymandering claim because the Court has consistently characterized such claims and their evidentiary burden as challenging the improper use of race in drawing the boundaries of one or more specific electoral districts. This district specific language and analysis is intended to reflect the personal nature of the harms underlying a racial gerrymandering claim. Second, the District Court erred in finding that equal population, not race, predominated when drawing district lines because the goal of equal population, even if more precise than what is constitutionally required, is not a "traditional" factor to be weighed against the use of race to determine whether race "predominates." Equal population is the underlying goal of all redistricting actions and is to be taken as a "given" when determining how race, or other factors, predominated the decisions as to how equal population objects will be met.

Significance: (1) Racial gerrymandering claims must be assessed on a district-by-district basis, not by examining the state's plan as a whole, and (2) equal population is not a traditional redistricting consideration but rather is a baseline requirement, and therefore it can never classified as the "primary" consideration when drawing lines.

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U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, Northern Division - 2:12-cv-00691

U.S. Supreme Court - 13-895 [135 S.Ct. 1257 (2015)]