The History of Redistricting

   In 1962, the Supreme Court handed down a landmark

ruling in Baker v. Carr (1) that changed the face of redistricting and voting rights.  In Baker, the Supreme Court ruled that federal courts could weigh in on redistricting plans, something it had refused to do in cases prior.  Due to the extreme variance in populations of districts, the court stepped in to protect the constitutional rights of those who were underrepresented in those districts.  Such malapportionment meant that those citizens lacked the very representation that they needed to effectively remedy the malapportionment.  Importantly, the courts ruled that incumbent state legislators could not be fully trusted to protect the voting rights of all citizens at the cost of their own political power (2)

   This ruling laid the foundation for what would become the famous standard, "one person, one vote", decided in 1964 in Wesberry v. Sanders (3) and Reynolds v. Sims (4).  In these respective rulings, the court decided that the electoral districts of both federal and state legislatures must be roughly equal in population.

The History of Redistricting

One Person, One Vote

Voting Rights Act

   In 1965, the Voting Rights Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson and further changed the way redistricting is conducted.  The Act prohibited state and local governments from enacting voting laws that discriminated against racial and language minorities. Section 2 of the Act allows members of a racial or language minority group to challenge a redistricting plan that limits or diminishes their opportunity to participate in the electoral process and to elect representatives of their choice (2).  Section 4b was the coverage formula that designated which states needed to meet the Preclearance requirements found in Section 5.  Texas was one of those states. Preclearance meant that any changes in voting laws, including new district maps, would need to be approved by federal authority.  Importantly, it also signified that the burden of proof in legal disputes lied with the jurisdiction, not the plaintiffs.  In 2013, nearly 43 years after the passage of the VRA, the Supreme Court overturned Section 4b (the coverage formula) in Shelby County v. Holder (5) stating that this Provision was outdated and no longer relevant.  This thereby shifted the burden of proof in redistricting disputes to the plaintiff and meant that jurisdictions no longer needed to seek preclearnace unless they were found guilty of discrimination.  

(1) Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186 (1962)

(2) Texas Legislative Council. State and Federal Law Governing Redistricting in Texas, 2011, pg. 1,      

(3) Wesberry v. Sanders, 376 U.S. 1 (1964) 

(4) Reynolds v. Sims,  377 U.S. 533 (1964)

(5) Shelby County v Holder570 U.S. 2 (2013)

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