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Davis v. Bandemer

A Political Question?

The first question before the Supreme Court was whether the Court properly could resolve the issue of whether the Indiana redistricting plan constituted a political gerrymander in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. In Luther v. Borden (1849), the Supreme Court first adopted what is now known as the political question doctrine. Under this doctrine a federal court, including the Supreme Court, cannot decide a case if it presents a political question. Examples of such political questions occur where the issue is committed by the Constitution to another branch of government, deciding the issue involves the Court in making an initial policy determination more suited to the legislative branch, or deciding the issue would otherwise hamper the interrelationship of the three separate, but equal, branches of the government.

Justice O'Connor reasoned that the Court should refuse to decide the case because "challenges to the manner in which an apportionment has been carried out--by the very parties that are responsible for this process--present a political question in the truest sense of the term." However, a majority of the justices disagreed. Justice White, writing the opinion of the Court on this issue, concluded that political gerrymandering did not involve a political question. He noted that the Court had previously decided racial gerrymandering cases, and that the standards involved in political gerrymandering cases did not significantly differ from those involved in racial gerrymandering cases.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1981 to 1988Davis v. Bandemer - Significance, A Political Question?, An Agreeable Test, Inconsistent Results, Impact, Further Readings