Abrams v. Johnson

LOCATION: Camp Newfound Owatonna

DOCKET NO.: 95-1425
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)

CITATION: 521 US 74 (1997)
ARGUED: Dec 09, 1996
DECIDED: Jun 19, 1997

A. Lee Parks - Argued the cause on behalf of the appellees Johnson, et al
Laughlin McDonald - Argued the cause on behalf of the appellants Abrams et al
Michael J. Bowers - Argued the cause on behalf of the appellees Miller et al
Seth P. Waxman - Argued the cause on behalf of the federal appellant

Facts of the case

Following a suit by Georgia residents challenging the constitutionality of a legislative redistricting plan (Miller v. Johnson, 515 US 900), and seeking an injunction against its further use, a District Court found the plan unconstitutional. On appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed - holding that race was a predominant factor in the plan's creation - and remanded it for redrafting. Shortly thereafter the composition of another of the plan's districts was challenged in a District Court which, after unsuccessfully deferring the matter to Georgia's Legislature for redrafting, drew its own plan creating one black-majority district in place of the proposed three. After the 1996 elections were held under the court's new plan, Abrams and several other voters challenged its constitutionality. Again, the Supreme Court granted certiorari.


Did the District Court's redistricting plan violate the 1965 Voting Rights Act or Article I of the Constitution, guaranteeing "one person, one vote"?

Media for Abrams v. Johnson

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 19, 1997 in Abrams v. Johnson

The opinion of the Court in No. 95-1425, Abrams against Johnson, and a companion case will be announced by Justice Kennedy.

This is the second time that we have addressed this case.

It concerns the electoral district lines for Georgia's congressional delegation.

In Miller versus Johnson decided two terms ago, we found that the Eleventh Congressional District in Georgia was unconstitutional as it was then drawn.

We said that race must not be a dominant factor -- predominant factor in drawing district lines.

And the Eleventh District had been so drawn and we found it was unconstitutional.

The case then went back to the District Court.

Since the state legislature was unable to act, the Court drew new lines for Georgia's congressional delegations.

Under the plan that we had reviewed in Miller and found deficient, there had been three majority black districts.

Under their plan, it is automatically drawn by the District Court, that's now here on review, there was but one.

We left the District Court's order in effect, denying a motion to issue a stay and that the 1996 congressional elections were held under the District Court's plan.

But the plan is now here on review under appeal and we address it.

The objection to the District Courts plan is that it did not have a three or even two majority black districts.

The principal contention by the appellants is that the District Court should have created at least two major -- majority black districts, because in 1991 before the litigation started, the Georgia Legislature had created two such districts.

The appellant's say that when a court draws district lines it should be guided by legislative policies that prevail in the jurisdiction to the extent those policies do not themselves violate the Constitution or the Voting Rights Act.

That principle, the principle the appellants rely upon deference to legislative policy is correct.

The usual deference, however, should not have been accorded in this case.

In 1991, when the State first drew the plan that the appellants now rely on, the State was already being subjected to steady Justice Department pressure to create the maximum number of majority black districts.

Thus, the second majority black district that the appellants hold out is a valid policy of the Georgia Legislature, was originally designed as a concession to the Justice Department's policy.

Given this background, it would have been most problematic for the trial court to insist on retaining a second majority black district without regard to other neutral districting factors.

The trial court gave careful consideration to creation of a second black district, and it concluded that one could not be drawn without allowing that one consideration of race to predominate over other traditional and neutral districting principles.

There is ample basis in the record to support the District Court's conclusion.

No proposed plan demonstrated a second majority black district could be drawn while still satisfying the constitutional requirement that race not predominate over traditional districting principles.

The trial judge acted well within its discretion with the trial court, it's a three-judge trial court acted well within in its discretion in deciding it could not draw two majority black districts without itself engaging in racial gerrymandering.

We find that the court ordered plan is not violative of Section 2 the Voting Rights Act, even assuming that the Act applies to court ordered remedial redistricting.

The conditions necessary to show vote dilution under Section 2, do not apply to the plan drawn by the Court.

And it should be noted that in the 1996 general elections, the results tend to support the District Court's earlier finding of a general willingness of white voters to vote for black candidates.

All three black incumbents won elections under the Court plan.

Two of them in majority white districts when running against the white candidates.

We also find no merit to the arguments that the District Court's plan violated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act or that the plan's population deviations and disparities do not accord with the requirement of one person one vote.