On review by a district court panel, a redistricting plan for Dade County Florida was found to be in violation of the Voting Rights Act by diluting minority voting power. The case was complicated, however, by the fact that Dade County has large Hispanic and African American populations. As voting patterns split along all three racial populations, this created a scenario where drawing majority Hispanic and African American populations were in some cases in incompatible. The Court also found that the plan only created 9 Hispanic districts out of a possible 11. Finding the three parts of the Gingles test satisfied, particularly in light of historical discrimination and vote dilution, the Court redrew the plan to increase the number of Hispanic districts, except where drawing Hispanic and African American districts were mutually exclusive, in which case they left the districts untouched. The case was appealed.
The Supreme Court overturned the district Court’s finding that the original plan violated §2. The Court held that a plan is not in violation of the Voting Rights Act simply because it did not maximize the number of majority-minority districts. “In sum, the District Court’s finding of dilution did not address the statutory standard of unequal political and electoral opportunity, and reflected instead a misconstruction of § 2 that equated dilution with failure to maximize the number of reasonably compact majority minority districts.” The original plan has drawn 9 Hispanic districts out of a possible 11, but the Court held that not drawing district lines to maximize the number of districts did not necessarily constitute a violation. The Court accepted that “several of SJR 2-G’s district lines separate portions of Hispanic neighborhoods, while another district line draws several Hispanic neighborhoods into a single district. This, however, would be to say only that lines could have been drawn elsewhere, nothing more. But some dividing by district lines and combining within them is virtually inevitable and befalls any population group of substantial size.
Attaching the labels “packing” and “fragmenting” to these phenomena, without more, does not make the result vote dilution when the minority group enjoys substantial proportionality.” This is to say that Gingles does not require, in regions with large minority populations, that maximizing the number 50% +1 majority-minority districts is required. Furthermore, to do so might in fact dilute minority strength, as creating bare majorities in more districts rather than substantial majorities in fewer districts might reduce a minority group’s electoral success. “Fragmenting minority voters among several districts… or packing them into one or a small number of districts to minimize their influence in the districts next door… Section 2 prohibits either sort of line drawing where its result, `interact[ing] with social and historical conditions,’ impairs the ability of a protected class to elect its candidate of choice on an equal basis with other voters.”
Impact on Redistricting
Johnson has clarified Gingles in an important way, making it clear that where minority populations are significant enough to cover several districts, maximizing the number of majority-minority districts is not the only important consideration, and in fact may be counterproductive. The decision gives redistricting plans more flexibility in areas with large minority populations to draw lines based on factors other than race alone.