After gaining three congressional seats following the 1990 census and in an effort to comply with the Voting Rights Act, Texas enacted a congressional redistricting plan which created District 30 as a new majority-Black district, District 29 as a new majority-Hispanic district, and reconfigured the adjacent District 18 to be a majority-Black district as well. The U.S. Department of Justice precleared the plan under Section 5 of the VRA, but a group of Texas voters filed a federal lawsuit challenging 24 of the districts in the enacted plan as unconstitutional racial gerrymanders under the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. A three-judge district court panel ruled in favor of the plaintiffs as to Districts 18, 29 and 30 and invalidated them as unconstitutional racial gerrymanders, which the state appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
On June 13, 1996, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision affirming the district court's judgment that the three challenged districts were unconstitutional racial gerrymanders, but no opinion garnered the support of a majority of justices. Justice O'Connor's plurality opinion, in which Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice Kennedy joined, first affirmed the district court's finding that race predominated over traditional redistricting criteria in the creation of the challenged districts, noting the districts' highly bizarre shapes, lack of compactness, and the state's use of racial data as a proxy for partisan gerrymandering objectives. Next, the plurality opinion held that the racial classifications in the three districts were not narrowly tailored to serve a compelling governmental interest, rejecting the state's asserted justifications of compliance with Sections 2 and 5 of the VRA on the grounds the state went beyond what was "reasonably necessary" to avoid diluting minority voting strength or retrogression in the challenged districts. In the close of her plurality opinion, Justice O'Connor's stated that "[o]ur Fourteenth Amendment jurisprudence evinces a commitment to eliminate unnecessary and excessive governmental use and reinforcement of racial stereotypes."
Justice O'Connor penned an additional concurring opinion expressing two viewpoints: that compliance with the results test of Section 2 is a compelling state interest, and that this results test can coexist in principle and in practice with the Court's ruling in Shaw v. Reno and its progeny. Justice Kennedy's concurring opinion characterized as dicta the statements in the plurality opinion that strict scrutiny would not automatically apply to all cases involving the intentional creation of majority-minority districts, while Justice Thomas's concurring opinion, joined by Justice Scalia, took the position that strict scrutiny would always apply in such cases.
U.S. Supreme Court - No. 94-805 [517 U.S. 952 (1996)]
- Opinion - 6/13/96