Thank You For Submiting Feedback!
Recall what “predominance” is about: A plaintiff pursuing a racial gerrymandering claim must show that race was the predominant factor motivating the legislature’s decision to place a significant number of voters within or without a particular district. To do so, the plaintiff must prove that the legislature subordinated traditional race-neutral districting principles to racial considerations. Now consider the nature of those offsetting “traditional race-neutral districting principles.” The Supreme Court has listed several, including compactness, contiguity, respect for political subdivisions or communities defined by actual shared interests, incumbency protection, and political affiliation.
In 2012 Alabama redrew the boundaries of the State's 105 House districts and 35 Senate districts. In doing so, while Alabama sought to achieve numerous traditional districting objectives--e.g., compactness, not splitting counties or precincts, minimizing change, and protecting incumbents--it placed yet greater importance on two goals: (1) minimizing a district's deviation from precisely equal population, by keeping any deviation less than one percent of the theoretical ideal; and (2) seeking to avoid retrogression with respect to racial minorities' “ability to elect their preferred candidates of choice” under § 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 52 U.S.C. §10304(b), by maintaining roughly the same black population percentage in existing majority-minority districts. Appellants--Alabama Legislative Black Caucus (Caucus), Alabama Democratic Conference (Conference), and others--claim that Alabama's new district boundaries create a “racial gerrymander” in violation of the Fourteenth Amendments Equal Protection Clause. After a bench trial, the three-judge District Court ruled (2 to 1) for the State. It recognized that electoral districting violates the Equal Protection Clause when race is the “predominant” consideration in deciding “to place a significant number of voters within or without a particular district,” Miller v. Johnson, 515 U.S. 900, 913, 916, 115 S. Ct. 2475, 132 L. Ed. 2d 762, and the use of race is not “narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest,” Shaw v. Hunt, 517 U.S. 899, 902, 116 S. Ct. 1894, 135 L. Ed. 2d 207 (Shaw II). In ruling against appellants, it made four critical determinations: (1) that both appellants had argued “that the Acts as a whole constitute racial gerrymanders,” and that the Conference had also argued that the State had racially gerrymandered Senate Districts 7, 11, 22, and 26; (2) that the Conference lacked standing to make its racial gerrymandering claims; (3) that, in any event, appellants' claims must fail because race “was not the predominant motivating factor” in making the redistricting decisions; and (4) that, even were it wrong about standing and predominance, these claims must fail because any predominant use of race was “narrowly tailored” to serve a “compelling state interest” in avoiding retrogression under §5.
Was the District Court's analysis of the racial gerrymandering claim as referring to the State “as a whole,” rather than district-by-district, correct?
The court held that the District Court’s analysis of racial gerrymandering of the State “as a whole” was legally erroneous because Caucus and Conference did not waive their right to consideration of their claims as applied to particular districts. There was inadequate support for the conclusion that Conference lacked standing. The District Court misapplied the “predominance” test for strict scrutiny since the requirement that districts have approximately equal populations was a background rule and was not a factor to be treated like other nonracial factors. The District Court’s determination that the districts would satisfy strict scrutiny rested upon a misperception of the law.