Justices Open Gerrymander to Challenge

From Times Wire Services

The Supreme Court today opened the way to legal attacks on the time-honored practice of gerrymandering, drawing voting districts to favor one political party over the other.

But the court said that to prove gerrymandering is unconstitutional, challengers must show that redistricting plans dilute the voting power of losing political parties over more than one or two elections.

By a 7-2 vote, the court upheld an Indiana legislative redistricting plan that was attacked by Democrats as unconstitutional gerrymandering.

At stake in the case may be control of the House of Representatives, where Democrats have held a majority since 1955.


More Evidence Required

Justice Byron R. White, in the court’s main opinion, said that in some circumstances gerrymandering may be unconstitutional. But he said the evidence to prove unconstitutionality must be more than merely a showing that the plan made it more difficult for one party to win an election.

The court majority found that state Democrats did not prove they had been hurt so much by Republican-drawn maps for the state legislature that there would be a “continued frustration of the will of a majority of the voters.”

“Relying on a single election to prove unconstitutional discrimination is unsatisfactory,” White said. White’s opinion was joined by Justices William J. Brennan, Thurgood Marshall and Harry A. Blackmun.


Three other justices said the courts should refrain altogether from reviewing gerrymandering. They are Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, Sandra Day O’Connor and William H. Rehnquist.

2 Justices Dissented

Justices Lewis F. Powell and John Paul Stevens dissented. Powell, in an opinion for both, said gerrymandering may be unconstitutional even if a plan does not violate the one-person, one-vote standard.

A three-judge federal court in 1983 ruled that district lines in Indiana “discriminated” unlawfully against Democrats. The panel said computer technology allowed adjustments in district boundaries for partisan advantage as never before.


In another ruling on redistricting today, the court made it easier for blacks and other minorities to challenge redistricting plans that may dilute their voting strength.

By a 9-0 vote, the justices ruled that nearly all of a North Carolina legislative redistricting plan violated the 1982 Voting Rights Act by reducing black voting power.