Vieth v. Jubelirer

PETITIONER: Robert C. Jubelirer, President of the Pennsylvania Senate, et al.
RESPONDENT: Richard Vieth, Norma Jean Vieth, and Susan Furey
LOCATION: Pennsylvania General Assembly

DOCKET NO.: 02-1580
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)

CITATION: 541 US 267 (2004)
GRANTED: Jun 27, 2003
ARGUED: Dec 10, 2003
DECIDED: Apr 28, 2004

J. Bart DeLone - argued the cause for Appellees Cortes and Accurti
John P. Krill, Jr. - argued the cause for Appellees Jubelirer and Perzel
Paul M. Smith - argued the cause for Appellants

Facts of the case

After the 2000 census reduced the size of the Pennsylvania Congressional delegation by two members, the Republican-controlled state legislature passed a redistricting plan that clearly benefitted Republican candidates. Several members of the Democratic party sued in federal court, claiming that the plan was unconstitutional because it violated the one-person, one-vote principle of Article I, Section 2 of Constitution, the Equal Protection clause, the Privileges and Immunities clause, and the freedom of association.

The district court dismissed all but the Article I, Section 2 claim. It held that the voters bringing the suit had not proved that they would be denied representation, only that they would be represented by Republican officials. Because the plaintiffs (those bringing the suit) were not denied the right to vote, to be placed on the ballot box, to associate as a party, or to express their political opinions, their political discrimination claims failed.

However, the court found the act unconstitutional because it created districts with different numbers of voters, thereby violating the one-person, one-vote principle. Because the plaintiffs had shown that it was possible to create districts with smaller differences, and because the defendants had failed to justify the disparities resulting under their plan, it was therefore unconstitutional.


Can voters affiliated with a political party sue to block implementation of a Congressional redistricting plan by claiming that it was manipulated for purely political reasons? Does a state violate the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment when it disregards neutral redistricting principles (such as trying to avoid splitting municipalities into different Congressional districts) in order to achieve an advantage for one political party? Does a state exceed its power under Article I of the Constitution when it draws Congressional districts to ensure that a minority party will consistently win a super-majority of the state's Congressional seats?

Media for Vieth v. Jubelirer

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 10, 2003 in Vieth v. Jubelirer

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - April 28, 2004 in Vieth v. Jubelirer

Antonin Scalia:

The second case I have to announce is No. 02-1580, Vieth versus Jubelirer.

This case comes to us on appeal from a three-judge District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

The population figures derived from the 2000 Census showed that Pennsylvania was entitled to two fewer representatives in Congress.

Pennsylvania’s republican controlled general assembly drew up a new district in plan.

The appellants here sued to enjoin the plan’s implementation alleging, among other things, that it constituted a political gerrymander in violation of Article I and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

A political gerrymander refers to according to one definition, the practice of dividing a geographical area into electoral districts often of highly irregular shape to give one political party an unfair advantage by diluting the opposition’s voting strength.

Consistent with that definition, the plaintiffs alleged that the Pennsylvania plans districts were “meandering and irregular” ignored all traditional redistricting criteria including the preservation of local government boundaries solely for the sake of partisan’s advantage.

The District Court composed of three judges dismissed the claim.

We affirm that dismissal.

What I now set forth is a summary of the views of a plurality of the Court consisting of the Chief Justice, Justice O’Connor, Justice Thomas, and me.

Political gerrymanders are not new.

They existed in colonial times and continued through the framing.

Eighteen years ago in a case called Davis versus Bandemer, this Court got into the business of policing misfield rejecting the contention that political gerrymandering claims are non-justiciable, insusceptible of judicial resolution because there are no judicially discernible and manageable standards to apply.

Six justices in Bandemer concluded that there were judicially discernible and manageable standards but could not agree on what those standards might be.

Four believed one thing, two believed something else.

The lower courts have lived with that assurance of a standard coupled with that inability to specify one for the past 18 years.

Abesnt a majority prescribed standard they have employed the standard enunciated by Bandemer’s four justice plurality.

Its application has almost invariably produced the same result as would have obtained if the question was non-justiciable, that is to say judicial intervention has been refused.

18 years of considerable judicial effort with virtually nothing to show for it justify, we think, reconsideration of the question whether the standard promised by Bandemer in fact exists.

Those of us joining the plurality opinion conclude that it does not.

All of the standards that have been proposed to date are unmanageable, indiscernible, or both.

The basic problem is that some degree of political motivation and effect in districting is not unconstitutional.

No one contents that a decent amount of political motivation and political effect is unlawful.

So, it comes down to determining how much political motivation and effect is too much.

We find it impossible to craft the standard that is clear enough and enough rooted in constitutional imperatives to render judicial entry into this political field appropriate.

Our opinion discusses all the standards that have been proposed up to now.

In the interest of time I will summarize here only our remarks concerning the appellant’s proposed standard since that illustrates the practical difficulties inherent in all the proposals.

Appellants would first require a plaintiff to show that the map makers acted with a predominant intent to achieve partisan advantage.

We have used a predominant intent standard in our racial gerrymandering cases under the Voting Rights Act, but its application in that very different context provides no comfort here.

To begin with, it has been used there only to assess challenges to particular districts.