Case Summary

When the Texas Legislature was unable to pass a congressional redistricting plan after the 2000 census, a three-judge Federal District Court enacted its own plan using only "neutral" redistricting standards that was then used for the 2002 elections. In 2003, Republicans gained full control over the Texas legislature and enacted a new congressional districting map, which was used in the 2004 congressional elections wherein Republicans won 21 seats with 58% of the statewide vote and Democrats won 11 seats with 41% of the statewide vote. Shortly after it was passed, several federal lawsuits were filed challenging the 2003 plan as a partisan gerrymander in violation of the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and alleging that certain districts diluted various minority populations' voting strength in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Specifically, the plaintiffs' Section 2 claims focused primarily upon two districts: District 23, which despite ongoing, steady increases in its Latino voter population went from having a Latino citizen voting age-population of 57.5% before 2003 to only 46% under the new plan; and the newly created District 25, which the State claimed was drawn to compensate for the District 23 changes and captured two different Latino communities in central Texas and southern Texas at its ends to generate a Latino citizen voting-age population of 55%.

In 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court held, among other things, that the plan's changes to District 23 violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The Court found that in regards to District 23's Latino population, the three Thornburg v. Gingles preconditions were sufficiently established such that Latinos could have had an "opportunity district" in District 23 had the lines not been altered. Rejecting the State's argument that it met its Section 2 obligations by creating District 25 as an "offsetting" opportunity district, the Court definitively stated that Section 2 does not provide a right to a district that is not reasonably compact and, therefore, the state's creation of a noncompact "opportunity" district can not compensate for or justify their dismantling of a compact "opportunity" district. The Court explained that unlike the "compactness" inquiry for equal protection purposes which looks to the size of the contested district itself, the "compactness" inquiry for Section 2 purposes looks to the compactness of the relevant minority population in terms of both their geographical proximity and their social and economic needs and interests. Applying this newly articulated standard to this case, the Court found that the "enormous geographical distance" separating the central Texas and south Texas Latino populations, coupled with their disparate needs and interests, rendered District 25 non-compact for Section 2 purposes. Given that District 25 resulted from the plan's splitting of District 23 and its otherwise "compact" Latino population, the Court ordered only that District 23 be redrawn on the belief that such a remedial district would also require District 25 to be redrawn.

Significance: (1) In the context of a vote dilution claim under Section 2, the "compactness" inquiry looks to the geographical, social and demographical cohesiveness and characteristics of a minority group within a district, while in the Equal Protection context, the "compactness" inquiry examines the relative compactness of the district's shape itself; (2) Section 2 does not allow a state to create a non-compact minority-opportunity district in order to "compensate" for the elimination of a compact minority-opportunity district in a different part of the state.

Case Library

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Marshall Division - 2:03-cv-354 [formerly Session v. Perry] [consolidated with 2:03-cv-380]

U.S. Supreme Court - No. 03-9644 [formerly Henderson v. Perry, 543 U.S. 941 (2004)] [together with Nos. 03-1391; 03-1396; 03-1399; 03-1400]

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Marshall Division - 2:03-cv-354 [consolidated with 2:03-cv-380; 2:03-cv-356; 2:03-cv-367; 2:03-cv-380; 6:01-cv-158; 6:01-cv-218; 6:01-cv-231]

U.S. Supreme Court - No. 05-204 [548 U.S. 399 (2006)] [consolidated with Nos. 05-254; 05-276; 05-439]