Karcher v. Daggett

LOCATION: New Jersey General Assembly

DOCKET NO.: 81-2057
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)

CITATION: 462 US 725 (1983)
ARGUED: Mar 02, 1983
DECIDED: Jun 22, 1983

Bernard Hellring - Argued the cause for the appellees
Kenneth J. Guido, Jr. - Argued the cause for the appellants

Facts of the case

Democrats in control of the New Jersey Legislature designed a plan for congressional redistricting in the state which the outgoing Democratic governor signed into law. Even though the district populations differed by less than one percent from each other, they were clearly drawn to maximize Democratic power in the state.


Did the gerrymandering in the reapportionment plan violate Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution?

Media for Karcher v. Daggett

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 02, 1983 in Karcher v. Daggett

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments first this morning in Karcher, Speaker of the New Jersey Assembly against Daggett.

Mr. Guido, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Kenneth J. Guido, Jr.:

Thank you, Your Honor.

My name is Kenneth J Guido, Jr. I represent the New Jersey Legislature and the Democratic members of Congress in this case.

This case is an appeal from the judgment of a divided three-judge district court in New Jersey, which struck down a congressional reapportionment plan enacted by the New Jersey legislature.

On January 19, 1982 New Jersey enacted a reapportionment plan for the election of United States House of Representatives with a deviation that falls within the statistical imprecision of the census data.

The plan in accordance with the notification from the Clerk of the House of Representatives based on the 1980 decennial census data reduced the number of districts from 15 to 14.

The plan as enacted creates 14 districts with an average population deviation of 0.135 percent and a maximum deviation between the smallest and largest districts of less than 0.7 of one percent.

The Legislature's criteria for redistricting was first numerical equality.

The leadership agreed that no plan would be considered with deviations over one percent and that lesser deviations would be sought.

Additional legislative criteria which was to be secondary to population equality were to protect minority interests by not unnecessarily diluting black votes particularly in the tenth or the Newark district.

The others were to preserve the cores of existing districts as much as possible for all members of the Legislature and to preserve municipal boundaries, which, in New Jersey because there are so many of them, are small enough to be building blocks for reapportionment purposes.

Plaintiffs, including all of the incumbent Republican members of Congress, on February 2nd and 9, 1982 brought suit to declare this statute unconstitutional because they believed other plans submitted to the Legislature would have reduced the variation between districts to even lower levels than the 0.7 of one percent in this case.

The cases were consolidated and submitted on depositions affidavits, and exhibits without trial upon the agreement of all parties to this action.

On March 3, 1982, the three-judge district court by a divided vote declared the statute unconstitutional.

The Court read Kirkpatrick and White, the decisions of this Court, as requiring any legislatively drafted congressional redistricting plan to be held unconstitutional if there existed the possibility that a plan with a smaller deviation of census population might be developed.

The Court concluded that such a possibility existed in this case and struck down the statute.

In doing so, the Court failed to consider the problems undisputed in the record with each of the plans rejected by the Legislature.

The Court also gave little, if any, consideration to other criteria such as preventing the dilution of minority voting strength in certain districts.

The Court concluded that preventing racial dilution did not justify the deviations because the district with the largest black vote, District 10, was not one of those with the highest deviation.

And, finally, the District Court rejected the Appellants' argument that the as nearly as practicable standard of Kirkpatrick and White is satisfied when the population deviation is even less than the statistical imprecision of the census.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Do we really know what the statistical deviation is on variance from the census figures?

Do we really have anything to go by?

Kenneth J. Guido, Jr.:

What we have in this case is that we have the statement of Dr. Trussell who is a demographer at Princeton... an expert demographer... and a noted authority on the census.

In fact, he participated in all of the studies that the census has.


Sandra Day O'Connor:

It was my understanding, though, that there was no real consensus if you will, on what the most recent census variation might be and if there is such a variation people have spoken in national terms which would not necessarily focus it on that--

Kenneth J. Guido, Jr.:

--That is right.

Dr. Trussell is the only one who has focused that on districts as small as congressional districts or at the state level.

If I may return to my argument... The... Circuit Judge Gibbons dissented.