Mahan v. Howell
Flexibility And Local Control
Justice Rehnquist, writing for the majority, explained that two principles had guided the decision. First, the Court believed that in drawing districts for state legislatures, "more flexibility is permissible than with respect to congressional redistricting." By those standards, Rehnquist wrote, the 16.4 percent variation from the smallest district to the largest "may well approach tolerable limits," but it did not exceed them.
Second, the state had been justified in "preserving the integrity of political subdivision lines," such as counties and cities. In other words, if two cities were located side by side, the state would be justified in making each city its own electoral district, even if one were slightly larger than the other. That way, the Court explained, each city's residents could elect representatives that would advance their own city's interest when the state legislature came to deal with local issues.
However, Justices Brennan, Douglas, and Marshall strongly disagreed. They thought that the state's redistricting plan had indeed been unfair, and they believed the district court had been right to make a new plan.
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