Case Summary

When redrawing their state's legislative districts in 1971, the Connecticut Reapportionment Board adopted the explicit policy goal of achieving "political fairness" between the parties in addition to their state constitutional requirement of preserving existing town lines, which resulted in a map with a maximum population deviation of 1.81% between Senatorial districts, 7.83% between House districts, and 47 of the State's 169 towns being split. Later that year, a group of Connecticut voters filed a federal lawsuit challenging the State's legislative apportionment plan on 14th Amendment Equal Protection Clause grounds. The plaintiffs alleged that the Board erroneously applied the one person, one vote principle to produce smaller deviations from population equality than was required by the Fourteenth Amendment in order to achieve their goal of roughly proportional representation for the two major parties based on the preceding three statewide election results. Additionally, the plaintiffs argued that even if the plan's population deviations fell within the constitutionally permissible range, the Board's underlying policy justification of political fairness and use of political data to achieve that goal was unconstitutional and could not otherwise justify any of the deviations.

In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled for the defendant-state officials and upheld the legislative apportionment plan, finding that the plaintiffs' had failed to sufficiently allege a prima facie case of invidious discrimination under the 14th Amendment so as to require the State to justify the plan's deviations. The Court held that while population equality is undoubtedly the primary consideration when conducting reapportionment, there are nevertheless other legitimate factors and interests the State may properly take into account when drawing lines and the mere fact that minor population deviations result from such otherwise legitimate considerations does not automatically render a plan violative of the 14th Amendment. Furthermore, the Court held that the State's policy goal of political fairness and use of partisan data to further that goal was not unconstitutional for apportionment purposes because the process of districting inevitably has and is intended to have "substantial political consequences." The Court explained that separating politics from the districting process would be an "impossible" task for the courts that, while not wholly exempt from judicial scrutiny under the 14th Amendment, is least warranted when the State aims to fairly allocate political power amongst the parties relative to their voting strength and remains within otherwise tolerable population limits in doing so.

Significance: (1) Population-based challenges to state legislative districts are judged under the less stringent, "substantially" equal population standard derived from the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause; (2) Minor deviations from equal population among state legislative districts (appx. <10%) does not constitute a prima facie claim of discrimination under the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause, and therefore the State is not required to justify such minor deviations; (3) Political considerations are implicit in and inseparable from the redistricting process, and while not totally immune from judicial scrutiny, a state's use of partisan data to further their goal of political fairness is constitutionally permissible.

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U.S. Supreme Court - 412 U.S. 735 (1973)