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decided: June 12, 1972.



Author: Per Curiam

[ 407 U.S. Page 191]

The 1970 self-reapportionment of the Louisiana Legislature was challenged in this lawsuit on the dual grounds that it offended both the one-man, one-vote principle and the prohibition against voting arrangements designed to dilute the voting strength of racial minorities. After the United States Attorney General interposed an objection to the election law change under § 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 79 Stat. 439, 42 U. S. C. § 1973c, the District Court appointed a Special Master to prepare a court-imposed plan. The Master was verbally instructed to hold hearings and to devise a proposal to maintain the integrity of political subdivisions and to observe natural or historical boundaries "as nearly as possible." He was also instructed that "no consideration whatsoever was to be given to the location of the residence of either incumbents in office or of announced or prospective candidates." Opinion of Judge West, Civil Action No. 71-234, Aug. 24, 1971.

The Special Master held four days of hearings, during

[ 407 U.S. Page 192]

     which over 100 persons were heard. Proposed plans were received by him. No one was denied a hearing. He then submitted his recommendation to the District Court and after a hearing it was adopted by the court.

 This dispute involves only four state senate seats affected by the reapportionment. At the hearing held by the District Judge on the Master's proposal, the State Attorney General presented a counterplan which differed from the Master's only with respect to four senatorial districts in the New Orleans area. Although the judge found that both plans satisfied the one-man, one-vote requirement, he found that the two schemes differed in their racial composition of the four districts, as is set out in greater detail in the margin.*fn1 Under the State Attorney General's scheme, four "safe" white districts were proposed whereas the Master's design would have created two districts of slight majorities of black voters. Also, under the counterplan each incumbent would continue to reside in his "own" district, whereas under the Master's proposal the residences of the four incumbents would fall evenly between the two districts to be composed primarily of white voters, ensuring defeat for two of the four incumbents.

At the hearing the State Attorney General contended that the court's plan would make hash of the traditional ward-and-precinct lines. The District Court acknowledged that there would be some departure from the historical patterns but concluded that the "'historical'

[ 407 U.S. Page 193]

     boundaries of voting districts in Louisiana reflect[ed] a history of racial discrimination. Adherence to the historical boundaries alluded to by objectors [had] been the prime reason why only two negroes [had] been allowed to sit in the Louisiana Legislature in the last 75 years." 333 F.Supp. 452, 462. The court found that the alternative proposal would "operate to diversify the negro voting population throughout the four districts and thus significantly dilute their vote" and would practically eliminate "the possibility of a negro being elected from any of the four districts," while the court-approved plan would at least give blacks "a fair chance in two out of the four districts. . . ." Id., at 457. The court-approved plan sought "to protect the rights of the people while the primary purpose of the Senators' plan appear[ed] to be the protection of incumbent office holders." Id., at 458. Accordingly, as mentioned, the District Court adopted the Master's recommendation.

Despite the District Court's findings, however, the Court of Appeals reversed without opinion and adopted the Attorney General's alternative division of New Orleans. The petitioners are the original plaintiffs and they now seek review of this summary reversal.

An examination of the record in this case suggests that the Court of Appeals may have believed that benign districting by federal judges is itself unconstitutional gerrymandering even where (a) it is employed to overcome the residual effects of past state dilution of Negro voting strength and (b) the only alternative is to leave intact the traditional "safe" white districts.*fn2 If that

[ 407 U.S. Page 194]

     were in fact the reasoning of the lower court, then this petition would present an important federal question of the extent to which the broad equitable powers of a federal court, Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, 402 U.S. 1, 15, are limited by the colorblind concept of Gomillion v. Lightfoot, 364 U.S. 339, and Wright v. Rockefeller, 376 U.S. 52, 57, 67 (DOUGLAS, J., dissenting).*fn3 In reapportionment cases, as JUSTICE STEWART has observed, "the federal courts are often going to be faced with hard remedial problems" in minimizing ...

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