Davis v. Bandemer Case Brief

Why is the case important?

The Supreme Court of the United States sustained Indiana’s 1981 state apportionment plan despite the claim that the apportionment diluted Democratic votes.

Facts of the case

A group of Democrats challenged Indiana’s 1981 state apportionment scheme on the ground of political gerrymandering. The Democrats argued that the apportionment unconstitutionally diluted their votes in important districts, violating their rights. A three-judge District Court sustained the Democrats’ challenge.

Question

Whether the political gerrymandering claim is justiciable.
Whether the District Court’s legal and factual basis for its conclusion that the 1981 apportionment was unconstitutional was the correct standard. Specifically, whether its holding that because any apportionment scheme that purposely prevents proportional representation is unconstitutional, Democratic voters need only show that their proportionate voting influence has been adversely affected is the correct standard.

Answer

Yes. Justice White held for the Court that the political question doctrine did not bar the Court from reaching its merits.
No. Judgment of the District Court reversed. Such a reapportionment law would not violate equal protection merely because the voters in the losing party did not have representation in the legislature in proportion to the statewide vote received by their candidates. To draw district lines to maximize the representation of each major party would require creating as many safe seats for each party as the demographic and predicted political characteristics of the state would permit. This in turn would leave the minority in each safe district without a representative of its choice. This political fairness approach has been previously upheld. An equal protection violation may only be found where the electoral system substantially disadvantages certain voters in their opportunity to influence the political process effectively. In this context, such a finding of unconstitutionality must be supported by evidence of continued frustration of the will of a majority of the voters or effective d
enial to a minority of voters of a fair chance to influence the political process. Here, there is no evidence to support either provision. Therefore, the Indiana’s 1981 apportionment scheme is constitutional.

Conclusion

The Court held that a threshold showing of discriminatory vote dilution was required for a prima facie case of an equal protection violation and that the findings made by the trial court of an adverse effect on appellees did not surmount the threshold requirement. Appellees did not meet their burden of showing both intentional discrimination against an identifiable political group and an actual discriminatory effect on the group. The trial court judgment was reversed.

  • Case Brief: 1986
  • Appellant: Davis
  • Appellee: Bandemer
  • Decided by: Burger Court

Citation: 478 US 109 (1986)
Argued: Oct 7, 1985
Decided: Jun 30, 1986