Wittman v. Personhuballah

PETITIONER:Robert J. Wittman, et al.
RESPONDENT:Gloria Personhuballah, et al.
LOCATION: United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia

DOCKET NO.: 14-1504
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2016- )
LOWER COURT: Federal district court

CITATION: 578 US (2016)
GRANTED: Jun 22, 2015
ARGUED: Mar 21, 2016
DECIDED: May 23, 2016

Ian H. Gershengorn – Deputy Solicitor General, for the United States as amicus curiae, in support of appellees
Michael A. Carvin – for the appellants
Stuart A. Raphael – for the state appellees
Mark E. Elias – for the private appellees

Facts of the case

In 2012, the Virginia State Legislature adopted a redistricting plan that altered the composition of the Third Congressional District, which was already majority African-American, and increased the percentage of African-American voters in the district. Pursuant to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the plan was submitted to the Department of Justice for preclearance, which was granted. On October 2, 2013, plaintiffs sued the defendants in their official capacities and argued that Virginia’s Third Congressional District was racially gerrymandered in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court ruled that the districting plan was unconstitutional because its use of race as a factor was not sufficiently narrowly tailored to serve a compelling government interest.

The defendant Commonwealth of Virginia did not appeal; instead, ten members of Congress, who had intervened in the case at the trial level, appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which remanded the case for reconsideration in light of its decision inAlabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama. In that case, the Court held that the Voting Rights Act does not require a legislature to maintain a particular minority number percentage in creating a districting plan, but rather it requires that the legislature maintain a minority’s ability to elect a candidate of choice. In considering whether a districting plan is unconstitutional, courts must examine whether racial considerations predominated over nonracial ones in determining which voters to place in which district. On remand, the district court again determined that the Third Congressional District was unconstitutional because racial considerations predominated in creating the plan.


Do the appellants have standing to appeal this case to the U.S. Supreme Court under Article III of the U.S. Constitution?

Media for Wittman v. Personhuballah

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – March 21, 2016 in Wittman v. Personhuballah

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – May 23, 2016 in Wittman v. Personhuballah

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

And Justice Breyer has our opinion in case 14-1504, Wittman versus Personhuballah.

Stephen G. Breyer:

This case involves three voters who challenged the Congressional Redistricting Plan that the Virginia legislature devised after the 2010 census, every 10 years they redo the thing.

In 2013, those three voters from Virginia, who are appellees in this Court, sued the state and they said that the redistricting plan was an unconstitutional racial gerrymander.

A divided three-judge district court agreed so they struck the plan down and Virginia lost, the voters won.

Virginia decided not to appeal, but several members of Congress from Virginia intervened.

They wanted to defend the plan.

They appealed because we had just decided another racial gerrymandering case, Alabama Legislative Black Caucus against Alabama, we didn’t hear the appeal rather we vacated the decision, sent it back and say reconsider it in light of what we just decided and they reconsidered it and they came up with the same result, they said the plan is unconstitutional.

Again Virginia decided not to appeal, again the three members of Congress said, we will appeal, they were interveners.

Now, after we read the briefs we asked for supplemental briefing on the question of whether the interveners have standing, those three members, can they pursue the appeal, do they meet the constitutional requirements which says case or controversy and that includes standing and you have standing, you have to show that you suffered an injury from the thing you’re complaining about and that it’s redressable by the court.

Well they argued they did have the outstanding, the three, because they said its going to reduce our chances of being reelected this plan, they are moving a lot of democrats in our district and we’re Republicans.

We say we will postpone consideration of the question.

We scheduled the case for argument and again we said, be sure you talk about standing.

In the meantime, the district court was busily figuring out its own remedial plan which it entered and the interveners didn’t like that plan either.

So they are at a dead-end.

But as our request for briefing suggests we can’t decide the merits of this case unless those three members of Congress have standing and we think they don’t.

Now originally they weren’t three, they were 10, current and former members of Congress who intervened, but only three are in front of us claiming they have standing.

They are representative Forbes, Wittman, and Brat.

Now Representative Forbes, who was an incumbent from District Four, has decided to run it in a different district, namely District Two.

So his counsel wrote us and said, no matter how we decide the case, Forbes is still going to run in District Two so given that fact we don’t see how our decision in this case can make a significant difference to him and so we really cannot redress the injury that he is talking about.

The other two representatives Brat and Wittman say unless we go back to Virginia’s original plan, our chances of election will be reduced and that’s harm they say but even assuming that they are right about what counts on, which we don’t have to decide, we haven’t found evidence showing that they would be significantly hurt.

The briefs filed here don’t point to any record evidence that supports the claim that they are making that they will be harmed in the new district and we just can’t decide standing on the basis of an allegation just saying we have standing, there have to, an intervener has to prove that he has the standing as does any other party and they have to prove if it’s question that they can continue to have standing throughout the case.

So given the lack of evidence that any of the three representatives has an injury it is redressable by this Court, we have to conclude they lack the necessary constitutional standing and therefore we dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

The decision of the Court is unanimous.