United States Department of Commerce v. Montana

PETITIONER: United States Department of Commerce
LOCATION: Circuit Court of Vermilion County

DOCKET NO.: 91-860
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1991-1993)

CITATION: 503 US 442 (1992)
ARGUED: Mar 04, 1992
DECIDED: Mar 31, 1992

Kenneth W. Starr - on behalf of the Appellants
Marc Racicot - on behalf of the Appellees

Facts of the case


Media for United States Department of Commerce v. Montana

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 04, 1992 in United States Department of Commerce v. Montana

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 31, 1992 in United States Department of Commerce v. Montana

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 91-860, United States Department of Commerce versus Montana will be announced by Justice Stevens.

John Paul Stevens:

This case comes to us on appeal from a three-judge District Court in the District of Montana.

Article I Section 2 of the Constitution requires apportionment of representatives among the several states according to their respective numbers.

A statute enacted by Congress in 1941 provides that seats in the House of Representatives are apportioned among the states by a method known as the method of equal proportions.

In the apportionment following the 1990 Census, Montana's representation in the House of Representatives was reduced form two seats to one.

The state and various officials brought suit alleging that the method of equal proportions resulted in the distribution of representatives that violated the principle of equal representation that this Court has found to be required in the context of intrastate districting decisions, those made by a state legislature affecting the districts within the state.

A majority of the three-judge District Court agreed with Montana and held that the apportionment statute was unconstitutional.

The District Court relied on our cases holding that when a state legislature defines congressional districts, it must make a good faith effort to achieve precise mathematical equality.

As our cases involving variances of only a fraction of 1% demonstrate, that goal is realistic and appropriate for state districting decisions.

In this case, however, whether Montana has one district or two, its variance from the ideal district will exceed 40%.

The constitutional guarantee of a minimum of one representative for each state in execrably compels a significant departure from the ideal.

In Alaska, Vermont, and Wyoming where the statewide districts are less populous than the ideal district, every vote is more valuable than the national average.

Moreover, the need to allocate a fix number of indivisible representatives among 50 states of varying populations makes it virtually impossible to have the same size district in any pair of states, let alone in all 50.

Accordingly, although common sense supports a test requiring a good faith effort to achieve precise mathematical equality within each state, the constraints impose by Article I Section 2, itself, make that goal illusory for the nation as a whole.

In view of the constitutional constraints on the apportionment of representatives, any method will result in substantial differences between the sizes of congressional districts in different states.

A congressional decision to adapt the equal proportions method apparently reflected a good faith effort to establish a fair apportionment of representatives.

We cannot say that the alternative methods proposed by Montana would better fulfill the constitutional principle of equal representation.

Accordingly, the judgment of the District Court is reversed.

Our opinion is unanimous.