In the early 1970s, after the Texas Redistricting Board adopted state Senate and state House redistricting plans, several groups of plaintiffs filed federal lawsuits challenging both plans as violating the U.S. Constitution. First, plaintiffs alleged that the state House and state Senate plans were malapportioned in violation of the one person, one vote constitutional requirement, with the state House plan having a total population deviation of 9.9%. Next, plaintiffs asserted that the state House plan's inclusion of 11 multi-member districts in Bexar and Dallas Counties were unconstitutionally discriminatory in that those districts were designed to dilute or minimize the voting strength of minority voters therein. A three-judge federal district court panel upheld the state Senate plan but ruled the state House plan was unconstitutional, finding that the plan's 9.9% population deviation constituted a prima facie violation of the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause and the plan's multi-member districts to be racially discriminatory. The defendants appealed this decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
On June 18, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court released its opinion reversing the district court's judgment as to the one person, one vote claim, but affirming its multi-member districts ruling. The Court found that the district court erred in holding that a legislative redistricting plan with a 9.9% population deviation, standing alone, constituted a prima facie violation of the 14th Amendment, noting that legislative districts are not subject to the strict population equality standards applicable to congressional districts under Article I, Section 2 and more evidence other than the plan's deviations alone would be needed to establish a violation. Turning to the multi-member district claims, the Court held there was sufficient evidence to invalidate the multi-member districts in Bexar and Dallas Counties as unconstitutionally racially discriminatory. Recognizing that multi-member districts are not per se unconstitutional, the Court nevertheless found that the multi-member districts at issue interacted with official and historical racial discrimination against Mexican-Americans in Bexar County and African-Americans in Dallas County so as to make them have less opportunity to participate in the political processes and to elect legislators of their choice.
U.S. Supreme Court - No. 72-147 [412 U.S. 755 (1973)]
- Opinion - 6/18/73