Harris v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission

PETITIONER:Wesley Harris, et al.
RESPONDENT:Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, et al.
LOCATION: United States District Court for the District of Arizona

DOCKET NO.: 14-232
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2016- )
LOWER COURT: Federal district court

CITATION: 578 US (2016)
GRANTED: Jun 30, 2015
ARGUED: Dec 08, 2015
DECIDED: Apr 20, 2016

Paul M. Smith – for appellee Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission
Sarah E. Harrington – Assistant to the Solicitor General, for the United States as amicus curiae, for the appellee Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission
Mark F. Hearne, II – for the appellants
Mark Brnovich – for the appellee

Facts of the case

In 2012, the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission redrew the map for the state legislative districts based on the results of the 2010 census. Wesley Harris and other individual voters sued the Commission and alleged that the newly redrawn districts were under-populated in Democratic-leaning districts and over-populated in Republican-leaning ones, and therefore that the Commission had violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Commission argued that the population deviations were the result of attempts to comply with the Voting Rights Act. The district court found in favor of the Commission and held that the redrawn districts represented a good faith effort to comply with the Voting Rights Act.


(1) Does the desire to gain advantage for one political party justify intentionally over-populating voting districts so that individual votes are devalued, thereby violating the one-person, one-vote principle?

(2) Does the desire to obtain favorable preclearance review from the Justice Department permit the creation of voting districts that deviate from the one-person, one-vote principle in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision inShelby County v. Holder?

Media for Harris v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – December 08, 2015 in Harris v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – April 20, 2016 in Harris v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Breyer has our opinion this morning in case 14-232, Harris versus The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission.

Stephen G. Breyer:

For the purpose of redrawing legislative boundaries in districts after a decennial census, Arizona uses an independent commission.

It is made up of two republicans, two democrats and an independent.

After the 2010 census, that commission created and promulgated a new plan.

A group of voters filed this lawsuit attacking the plan’s constitutionality primarily on the ground that its population differences among districts varied too much, if you count from the most populous to the least populous districts, the variation was 8.8%.

In their view, that deviation reflected illegitimate partisan considerations.

The three-judge District Court that heard this found that the population deviations were consistent with the Constitution’s mandate, the Constitution.

The voters appealed and we now affirm the District Court.

We have for some time made clear that the Constitution while it insists upon compliance with the principle of one person one vote, does not demand mathematical perfection.

We have said that minor deviations from mathematical equality do not by themselves make out a prima facie case of invidious discrimination and we have defined as minor deviations those in an apportionment plan with a maximum population deviation under 10%.

The voters argue that nonetheless the deviation here, while it is less than 10%, is still unconstitutional because it reflects an effort to help one political party, in this case the Democratic Party.

The District Court, however, found that although partisanship did play “some role” the population deviations “primarily” reflected an effort to comply with the Federal Voting Rights Act.

We have read the record and we conclude that it adequately supports this District Court conclusion.

Consequently the voters have failed to show that it is more probable than not, that illegitimate considerations were the predominant motivation behind the plan’s population deviations.

We consequently affirm the District Court.

Our decision is unanimous.