Shaw v. Reno

509 U.S. 630 (1993)


In 1990, North Carolina became entitled to a 12th seat in the United States House of Representatives. The General Assembly enacted a reapportionment plan that included one majority-black congressional district. The Attorney General of the United States objected to the plan pursuant to § 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The General Assembly passed new legislation creating a second majority-black district. When finished, the State created what could only be deemed a work of art. Shaw (P) alleged that the revised plan, which contains district boundary lines of dramatically irregular shape, constitutes an unconstitutional racial gerrymander. The two majority-black districts have been compared to a “Rorschach inkblot test,” and a “bug splattered on a windshield.” Blacks only constitute a majority in 5 of North Carolina's 100 counties. The second majority-black district is approximately 160 miles long and, for much of its length, no wider than the I-85 corridor. It winds in snakelike fashion through tobacco country, financial centers, and manufacturing areas “until it gobbles in enough enclaves of black neighborhoods.” One state legislator has remarked that “‘if you drove down the interstate with both car doors open, you'd kill most of the people in the district.’” Ps contend that the General Assembly's revised reapportionment plan violated several provisions of the United States Constitution, including the Fourteenth Amendment. They alleged that the General Assembly deliberately “created two Congressional Districts in which a majority of black voters was concentrated arbitrarily - without regard to any other considerations, such as compactness, contiguousness, geographical boundaries, or political subdivisions.” A three-judge District Court granted Ds' (federal defendants) motion to dismiss in that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction by reason of § 14(b) of the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1973l(b), which vests the District Court for the District of Columbia with exclusive jurisdiction to issue injunctions against the execution of the Act. The District Court majority found no support for Ps' contentions that race-based districting is prohibited by Article I, § 4, or Article I, § 2, of the Constitution, or by the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. It deemed Ps' claim under the Fifteenth Amendment essentially subsumed within their related claim under the Equal Protection Clause. Because the General Assembly's plan did not lead to proportional under representation of white voters state-wide, the majority of the court concluded that Ps had failed to state an equal protection claim. The Supreme Court granted certiorari.