LOCATION: Texas General Assembly
DOCKET NO.: 94-805
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
CITATION: 517 US 952 (1996)
ARGUED: Dec 05, 1995
DECIDED: Jun 13, 1996
Daniel E. Troy - Argued the cause for the appellees in all cases
Javier Aguilar - Argued the cause for the appellants in Bush v. Vera
Paul Bender - Argued the cause for the United States in United States v. Vera
Penda D. Hair - Argued the cause for the appellants in Lawson v. Vera
Facts of the case
Following the 1990 census, Texas planned the creation of three additional congressional districts. Following the redistricting, registered voters challenged the plans as racial gerrymandering. A three-judge federal district court found the plans unconstitutional. The case moved to the Supreme Court on appeal.
Do the Texas redistricting plans violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?
Media for Bush v. Vera
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 05, 1995 in Bush v. Vera
William H. Rehnquist:
We'll hear argument now in Number 94 805, George W. Bush v. Al Vera, William Lawson v. Al Vera, and United States v. Al Vera.
Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court--
At issue in this direct appeal is the constitutionality of three congressional districts that the court below erroneously ruled were racially gerrymandered.
These districts are localized in two metropolitan areas of the State of Texas, two counties, Harris County and Dallas County.
The districts involved are Congressional Districts 18, which is a black opportunity district that was created originally in the 1970's in Harris County, Congressional District 29, which is a brand new congressional district, which is now a Hispanic opportunity district in Harris County, and Congressional District 30, which is a black opportunity district in Dallas County, a brand new black opportunity district.
Mr. Aguilar, what is this opportunity district?
This is new terminology.
Well, it's a majority minority district that was created under--
Why don't we just call them majority minority districts?
I mean, you're entitled to use whatever terminology... you can call them, you know, motherhood apple pie districts if you like, but you will be insulting my intelligence every time you say it.
Can't we give it some, you know, unemotive terminology that we can use in the argument?
--Yes, Your Honor.
I'll refer to them as majority minority districts.
The district court we believe legally erred in its finding below that the three districts were racially gerrymandered for two reasons.
First, it held that race predominated in the drawing of the districts, but it did so because it refused to recognize the State's customary and traditional redistricting principle of incumbency protection, as well as other principles that it utilized, including the equal population rule that it always follows and it must follow--
William H. Rehnquist:
That's pretty much a question of fact, isn't it, Mr. Aguilar, whether it was basically a desire to preserve incumbency or whether it was the desire to create majority minority districts?
--Well, yes, sir, it is a question of fact, Your Honor, but in this case... they decided this case before Miller v. Johnson, and I think their opinion is clear that they did not believe that incumbency protection should be considered a traditional districting principle because it was not among those listed in the Shaw v. Reno case to begin with.
It is our contention that the determination of what is a customary and traditional districting principle is something that is determined by the State and its practices, its historical practices, and there was no doubt that in this case there's plenty of evidence to show that Texas has followed the traditional practice of incumbency protection to decide where it's going to draw its districts, and incumbency protection as applied by the Texas legislature, certainly in the 1990's, really has four aspects, Mr. Chief Justice.
First, it is not pairing incumbents.
It will not vote for a plan that does not pair incumbents, simply because they want to preserve the State's congressional seniority.
Second, it means that if you're going to have to redraw districts, which they had to because of the fact that the population had increased so greatly in Texas that we had been reapportioned three different districts, that you try to maintain the constituency of each of the Congresspeople.
William H. Rehnquist:
Okay, but Mr. Aguilar, you made this argument, I take it, to the district court, and you can see it's a question of fact as to what the motivation for drawing... and the district court rejected those findings.
Are you contending here that they're clearly erroneous?
No, Your Honor.
We're saying that their decision is legally wrong because it did not properly apply the rule of Miller v. Johnson.
Now, in fact, quite frankly they didn't have it to apply because it wasn't decided until sometime after the opinion.
What we're saying is, they recognized--
Sandra Day O'Connor:
Well, but Mr. Aguilar, the district court did make findings that the districts were formed in utter disregard for traditional redistricting criteria, and were unexplainable on other than racial grounds.