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Bush v. Vera

Three Districts Challenged

In reaction to the 1990 census, the Texas state legislature made plans for redistricting in order to remedy past and present racial discrimination and to comply with two clauses of the Voting Rights Act. The first clause prohibited denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen to vote because of race or color and prohibited obstruction of a minority's ability to elect representatives of their choice. The second clause sought to prevent suppression of racial minorities with respect to exercise of the electoral franchise. Thus, the state legislature made plans for redistricting and created three new districts. Voting majorities in two new districts were African American; another district was largely Hispanic. Following redistricting, six Texas voters challenged the districts as racial gerrymanders in violation of the Equal Protection Clause (a gerrymander is an election district resulting from arranging political divisions of a city, state, county, etc. to give one political party an advantage in elections).

The case first came before the District Court for the Southern District of Texas. Six voters, as plaintiffs, claimed they were personally subjected to racial classification by the state's redistricting and consequently denied equal protection of law. Defendant George Bush, governor of Texas (joined by private intervenors and the Department of Justice), claimed that Texas was guided by a lawful concern to remedy a long history of racial discrimination and to avoid liability under the Voting Rights Act. He admitted that the state intentionally created "majority-minority" districts, but that the state legislation adhered to traditional districting principles (such as incumbency protection and conformity to political subdivisions) and race did not override those principles. Bush claimed that, according to the Voting Rights Act, the protection of the electoral minority was a compelling state interest and therefore did not violate the Equal Protection Clause. (This clause prohibits varying treatment of citizens, unless the difference in treatment is related to a legitimate state interest).

The three-judge district court first established in Miller v. Johnson that strict judicial scrutiny applied to the case because districting principles were "subordinated to race." Here, the Court held, the bizarre shapes of several districts showed that race did override other factors. Because strict scrutiny was satisfied if state actions were narrowly tailored to a compelling state interest, the Court looked at evidence (computer programs used for redistricting plans that contained mostly racial data) and found that "minority numbers were virtually all that mattered in the shape of those districts." Since that was not "narrow tailoring," the Court concluded that the three districts were racially gerrymandered and held them unconstitutional.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1995 to PresentBush v. Vera - Significance, Three Districts Challenged, A Difficult Decision, Impact, Further Readings