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Law School Case Brief

Whitcomb v. Chavis - 403 U.S. 124, 91 S. Ct. 1858 (1971)


The mere fact that one interest group or another concerned with the outcome of county elections has found itself outvoted and without legislative seats of its own provides no basis for invoking constitutional remedies where there is no indication that this segment of the population is being denied access to the political system.


This suit was brought by residents of Marion and Lake Counties, Indiana, challenging state statutes establishing Marion County as a multi-member district for the election of state senators and representatives. It was alleged, first, that the laws invidiously diluted the votes of Negroes and poor persons living in the "ghetto area" of Marion County, and, second, that voters in multi-member districts were overrepresented since the true test of voting power is the ability to cast a tie-breaking vote, and the voters in multi-member districts had a greater theoretical opportunity to cast such votes than voters in single-member districts. The tendency of multi-member district legislators to vote as a bloc was alleged to compound this discrimination. The three-judge court, though not ruling squarely on the second claim, determined that a racial minority group with specific legislative interests inhabited a ghetto area in Indianapolis, in Marion County; that the statutes operated to minimize and cancel out the voting strength of this minority group; and that redistricting Marion County alone would leave impermissible variations between Marion districts and others in the State, thus requiring statewide redistricting, which could not await 1970 census figures. The court held the statutes unconstitutional, and gave the State until October 1, 1969, to enact reapportionment legislation. No such legislation ensued, and the court drafted a plan using single-member districts throughout the State. The 1970 elections were ordered to be held in accordance with the new plan. The United States Supreme Court granted a stay of judgment pending final action on the appeal, thus permitting the 1970 elections to be held under the condemned statutes. Under those statutes, based on the 1960 census, there was a maximum variance in population of senate districts of 28.20%, with a ratio between the largest and smallest districts of 1.327 to 1, and a maximum variance in house districts of 24.78%, with a ratio of 1.279 to 1.


Did the provisions constituting Marion County, which includes the city of Indianapolis, a multi-member district for electing state senators and representatives invidiously dilute the force and effect of the votes of minorities and poor persons in certain areas of the county?




The United States Supreme Court reversed and held that appellee had not suggested that the county's multi-member district, or similar districts throughout the state, were conceived or operated as purposeful devices to further racial or economic discrimination. Thus, the mere fact that appellee, concerned with the outcome of county elections, had found itself outvoted and without legislative seats of its own, provided no basis for invoking constitutional remedies where there was no indication that they were being denied access to the political system. The Court held that it was unprepared to hold that district-based elections decided by plurality vote were unconstitutional in either single- or multi-member districts simply because the supporters of losing candidates had no legislative seats assigned to them.

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