Karcher v. Daggett (1983)

Karcher v. Daggett, 462 U.S. 725 (1983)

Case Summary

A Congressional redistricting plan was drawn up by the Democrat controlled New Jersey Legislature and signed by a Democratic governor that, though creating districts that differed by less that 1%, were blatantly drawn to favor the Democratic Party. The plan was challenged as violating the “equal representation” clause of Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution.


The Supreme Court held that the apportionment plan was unconstitutional because its variations from equal population could not be justified. The Court determined that the “equal representation” standard requires that Congressional districts be drawn to achieve as close to population equality as practicable. Reaffirming its ruling in Kirkpatrick v. Preisler, the Court declared that “there are no de minimus population variations, which could practically be avoided, but which nonetheless meet the standard of Art. I Sec. 2, without justification.” However, plaintiffs challenging apportionment plans bear the burden of proof. The plan must be shown to create population differences that could have been reduced by a “good-faith effort to draw districts of equal population.” If this requirement is met, then the burden of proof shifts to the defendant, who must show that any significant variances between districts were necessary to achieve a legitimate government interest. The Court also rejected the state government’s contention that any plan that creates districts between which the variance is less that the “predictable undercount” in census figures should be treated at equivalent. The Court insisted that Census numbers be used at the benchmark for creating equal districts.

Impact on Redistricting

This case has essentially made it so that Congressional districts must be drawn to be perfectly equal. While its efficacy in preventing gerrymandering is questionable, it has led governments to justify their plans by appealing to powerful governmental interests when explaining why they drew districts in a particular manner.