Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tennant v. Jefferson County

Elections: redistricting plan: Article I, §2, of the United States Constitution requires that Members of the House of Representatives “be apportioned among the several States . . . according to their respective Numbers” and “chosen every second Year by the People of the several States.” In Wesberry v. Sanders, 376 U. S. 1 (1964), we held that these commands require that “as nearly as is practicable one man’s vote in a congres­sional election is to be worth as much as another’s.” Id., at 7–8. We have since explained that the “as nearly as is practicable” standard does not require that congressional districts be drawn with “precise mathematical equality,” but instead that the State justify population differences between districts that could have been avoided by “a good­ faith effort to achieve absolute equality.” Karcher, supra, at 730 (quoting Kirkpatrick v. Preisler, 394 U. S. 526, 530– 531 (1969); internal quotation marks omitted); Karcher set out a two-prong test to determine whether a State’s congressional redistricting plan meets this stand­ard. First, the parties challenging the plan bear the bur­den of proving the existence of population differences that “could practicably be avoided.” 462 U. S., at 734. If they do so, the burden shifts to the State to “show with some specificity” that the population differences “were necessary to achieve some legitimate state objective.” Id., at 741, 740. This burden is a “flexible” one, which “depends on the size of the deviations, the importance of the State’s interests, the consistency with which the plan as a whole reflects those interests, and the availability of alternatives that might substantially vindicate those interests yet approximate population equality more closely.” Id., at 741; as we recently reaffirmed, redistricting “ordinarily involves criteria and standards that have been weighed and evaluated by the elected branches in the exercise of their political judgment.” Perry v. Perez, 565 U. S. ___, ___ (2012) (per curiam) (slip op., at 4). “We are willing to defer to such state legislative policies, so long as they are consistent with constitutional norms, even if they require small differences in the population of congressional dis­tricts.” Karcher, supra, at 740; State legislators ex­pressed concern that the plan contravened the State’s longstanding rule against splitting counties, placed two incumbents’ residences in the same district, and moved one-third of the State’s population from one district to another; S. B. 1008, codified at W. Va. Code Ann. §1–2–3 (Lexis 2012 Supp.), does not split county lines, redistrict incum­bents into the same district, or require dramatic shifts in the population of the current districts. Indeed, S. B. 1008’s chief selling point was that it required very little change to the existing districts: it moved just one county, representing 1.5% of the State’s population, from one district to another. This was the smallest shift of any plan considered by the legislature. S. B. 1008, however, has a population variance of 0.79%, the second highest variance of the plans the legislature considered. That is, the popu­lation difference between the largest and smallest districts in S. B. 1008 equals 0.79% of the population of the average district; given the State’s concession that it could achieve smaller population variations, the remaining question under Karcher is whether the State can demonstrate that “the population deviations in its plan were necessary to achieve some legitimate state objective.” 462 U. S., at 740. Con­sidering, as Karcher instructs, “the size of the deviations, the importance of the State’s interests, the consistency with which the plan as a whole reflects those interests, and the availability of alternatives that might substantially vindicate those interests,” id., at 741, it is clear that West Virginia has carried its burden; as an initial matter, the District Court erred in conclud­ing that improved technology has converted a “minor” variation in Karcher into a “major” variation today. Noth­ing about technological advances in redistricting and mapping software has, for example, decreased population variations between a State’s counties. See id., at 733, n. 5. Thus, if a State wishes to maintain whole counties, it will inevitably have population variations between districts reflecting the fact that its districts are composed of un- evenly populated counties. Despite technological advances, a variance of 0.79% results in no more (or less) vote dilu­tion today than in 1983, when this Court said that such a minor harm could be justified by legitimate state objectives (U.S.S.Ct., 25.09.12, Tennant v. Jefferson County, Per Curiam).

Elections : plans modifiant les limites des circonscriptions électorales : la Section 2 de l’Art. I de la Constitution fédérale demande que les membres de la Chambre des Représentants soient répartis selon les différents états d’après leurs populations respectives, et soient élus tous les deux ans par la population des états. La jurisprudence de la Cour dispose qu’autant que possible, le vote d'une personne, dans les élections au Congrès, équivaut au vote d’une autre personne. La jurisprudence de la Cour a également précisé qu’il n’était pas imposé aux états de garantir une égalité mathématique parfaite s’agissant de la population des différents districts électoraux, mais qu’il incombait aux états de justifier des différences de populations entre districts qui auraient pu être évitées par un effort de bonne foi, lequel aurait pu permettre d’atteindre une égalité absolue. La jurisprudence Karcher a mis en place un test comprenant deux questions pour déterminer si un plan modifiant les limites des districts électoraux est ou non conforme à la Constitution fédérale. Tout d’abord, les parties qui contestent le nouveau plan doivent établir l’existence de différences de populations qui auraient pu être évitées. Si cette preuve peut être apportée, le fardeau de la preuve passe à l’état, qui doit démontrer que les différences de population étaient nécessaires à l’aune d’objectifs étatiques légitimes. Ce fardeau de la preuve est flexible : il dépend de l’importance des déviations, de l’importance des intérêts invoqués par l’état, de la consistance avec laquelle le plan dans son ensemble reflète ces intérêts, et de la disponibilité de solutions alternatives susceptibles de remettre substantiellement en cause lesdits intérêts de l’état tout en permettant un rapprochement de l’égalité de populations entre les districts électoraux. Une certaine déférence est accordée aux états s’agissant de questions politiques, et des différences peu importantes seront difficilement remises en cause avec succès. La loi considérée de l’état de Virginie ne fractionne pas les limites de district, ne place pas un candidat dans le même district qu’un élu, et n’impose pas de modifications importantes aux nombres de votants des différents districts électoraux. En l’espèce, la différence de population entre le district le plus peuplé et le district le moins peuplé équivaut à 0,79% de la population du district moyen. Le plan de l’état de Virginie ne contrevient ainsi en rien à la Constitution fédérale.

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