Vieth v. Jubelirer

Following is the case brief for Vieth v. Jubelirer, 541 U.S. 267 (2004)

Case Summary of Vieth v. Jubelirer:

  • Pennsylvania adopted a congressional redistricting plan after the 2000 census.
  • The districts were drawn in such a way that it significantly favored Republicans.
  • Plaintiffs, who were registered Democrats, sued to enjoin the redistricting plan.
  • The district court dismissed the plaintiffs’ political gerrymandering claim.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the district court decision, with a plurality of justices finding that political gerrymandering claims are nonjusticiable.

Vieth v. Jubelirer Case Brief

Statement of the Facts:

Following the 2000 census, it was revealed that Pennsylvania was entitled to two fewer representatives in Congress than the previous delegation.  The Pennsylvania legislature, controlled by Republicans, adopted a partisan redistricting plan that heavily favored Republicans in as many districts as possible.

Plaintiffs, registered Democrats, sued in federal court to enjoin the enforcement of the redistricting plan.  The complaint alleged that the plan created malapportioned districts, violating the one-person, one-vote principle; and that it was a political gerrymander in violation of Article I of the Constitution and equal protection.

Procedural History:

  • The district court dismissed the political gerrymandering claim. However, it allowed a trial on the apportionment claim and found for the plaintiffs.
  • The State then created a remedial plan to address the apportionment issue.
  • Plaintiffs appealed the dismissal of the gerrymandering claim.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court noted probable jurisdiction.

Issue and Holding:

Are political gerrymandering cases justiciable?  No.

Judgment:

The decision of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania is affirmed.

Rule of Law or Legal Principle Applied:

Political gerrymandering claims are nonjusticiable, therefore the Court’s decision in Davis v. Bandemer is overruled.

Reasoning:

While a majority of the Justices agreed with the judgment to affirm the district court’s decision, no opinion commanded a majority of the Justices.

Plurality Opinion (Scalia, joined by Rehnquist, O’Connor, Thomas):

Political gerrymanders have been around since colonial times, and the Constitution already provides for a remedy by giving Congress the power to alter congressional districts.  Neither Article I of the Constitution, nor the Equal Protection Clause, provides way for the court to impose limits on the political issues that go into a State’s or Congress’s districting plan.

The Court in Bandemer attempted to fashion a standard, but a majority could not agree on one specific standard.  And since Bandemer was decided, courts trying to apply the plurality’s standard have typically resulted in the court refusing to intervene in the relevant redistricting plan.  Accordingly, after 18 years of attempted application, it is time to revisit Bandemer.

The plurality’s Bandemer standard, as well as the standards proposed by the litigants in this case, and the standards proposed by the dissenting justices are not workable.  Therefore, Bandemer is overruled, and political gerrymandering claims are nonjusticiable.

Concurring and Dissenting Opinions:

Concurring Opinion (Kennedy):

The Court is correct on the narrow issue that no appropriate judicial solution is available in the present case.  That said, the Court should not give up on finding a workable judicial standard for for judging political gerrymandering claims.

Dissenting Opinion (Stevens):

Five members find the plurality’s conclusion – that political gerrymandering claims are nonjusticiable – wrong.  Plus, it would be profoundly unwise to foreclose all judicial review for political gerrymandering claims in the future.  The fact that the Justices cannot agree on a standard is not as significant as the fact that a majority believe that courts have a role to play in evaluating political gerrymandering claims.

Dissenting Opinion (Souter):

If unfairness in redistricting is sufficiently demonstrable, then it violates equal protection.  If the Court is able to evaluate racial gerrymandering then it can evaluate political gerrymandering as well.

Dissenting Opinion (Breyer):

Sometimes purely political gerrymandering “will fail to advance any plausible democratic objective while simultaneously threatening serious democratic harm.”  And, in those cases, courts can identify equal protection violations and provide a remedy.  Because plaintiffs in this case can claim (but still must prove) political gerrymandering, the case should not have been dismissed.

Significance:

Vieth v. Jubelirer is a significant for the new gerrymandering cases that are coming before the Court.  One could fairly say that the country’s politics are more polarized, and political gerrymandering is more prevalent.  Therefore, the question becomes will the current makeup of the Court agree with the Vieth plurality that political gerrymandering claims are nonjusticiable.

Student Resources:

Read the Full Court Opinion

Listen to the Oral Arguments

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