Lawyer v. Department of Justice

RESPONDENT: Department of Justice
LOCATION: Arkansas State Capitol

DOCKET NO.: 95-2024
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)

CITATION: 521 US 567 (1997)
ARGUED: Feb 19, 1997
DECIDED: Jun 25, 1997

Irving L. Gornstein - Department of Justice, argued the cause for the federal appellee
Robert J. Shapiro - Argued the cause for the appellant
Richard G. Taranto - Argued the cause for the state appellees

Facts of the case

Based on the 1990 census, the Florida Legislature adopted a reapportionment plan for State Senate and House districts. After the Justice Department refused to preclear the plan and it appeared as if the Governor, Senate President, and House Speaker would not convene a session, the Florida Supreme Court revised the redistricting plan itself. In 1995, C. Martin Lawyer, III, and other residents filed suit against state and federal parties, alleging that his district, Senate District 21, violated the Equal Protection Clause. The District permitted the State Senate and House of Representatives to intervene and ultimately, all the parties, but Lawyer, agreed to a settlement that revised District 21 under a new plan. The District Court rejected Lawyer's argument that the court had to find the original reapportionment plan unconstitutional, because race seemingly determined District 21's contours, before the settlement could be approved. The court approved the settlement.


Did the District Court err in approving a remedial plan for the creation of a Florida state Senate district, which allegedly violated the Equal Protection Clause?

Media for Lawyer v. Department of Justice

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 19, 1997 in Lawyer v. Department of Justice

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 25, 1997 in Lawyer v. Department of Justice

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 95-2024, Lawyer versus Department of Justice will be announced by Justice Souter.

David H. Souter:

This case comes to us on an appeal from the three-judge panel of the District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

The appellant and other residents of Florida, State Senate District 21, brought suit against the State of Florida and the United States Department of Justice claiming that the District 21 was unconstitutional under the principle set forth ensuring Reno and Miller and Johnson.

The District Court granted motions to intervene filed by the State Senate, the State House of Representatives and others.

Before trial all parties except the appellant agreed to a settlement that would modify District 21 under a new redistricting plan.

Over appellant's objection, the District Court approved the settlement.

In an opinion filed with the clerk of court today we now affirm.

The appellant first argues that the District Court denied the State the opportunity to redistrict by approving the settlement -- the settlement agreement rather.

This agreement -- I'm sorry.

This argument misconceives the settlement.

The State acting through the attorney general took this opportunity to redistrict by entering into the settlement agreement itself.

No question was raised below suggesting that the Attorney General lack authority to propose a new redistricting plan as an incident of his authority to represent the State in the litigation, nor was appellant's consent required for the District Court to approve the settlement.

The settlement imposed no duties or obligations on the appellant and in fact granted him an element of the very relief he had sought.

The elimination of District 21 is originally drawn.

The appellant may not stand in the State's shoes to demand an adjudication that the State could have demanded but instead waived.

Finally, on the facts of this case, the District Court's finding that District 21 has redrawn did not subordinate traditional districting principles to raise is not clearly erroneous.

Justice Scalia has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice O'Connor, Justice Kennedy and Justice Thomas joined.