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CONNOR V. FINCH, 431 U. S. 407 (1977)

U.S. Supreme Court

Connor v. Finch, 431 U.S. 407 (1977)

Connor v. Finch

No. 76-777

Argued February 28, 1977

Decided May 31, 1977*

431 U.S. 407


1. The Federal District Court's legislative reapportionment plan for Mississippi's Senate and House of Representatives held not to embody the equitable discretion necessary to effectuate the standards of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment in that the plan failed to meet that Clause's most elemental requirement that legislative districts be "as nearly of equal population as is practicable." Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U. S. 533, 377 U. S. 577. Pp. 431 U. S. 413-421.

(a) A court is held to stricter standards than a state legislature in devising a legislative reapportionment plan, and

"unless there are persuasive justifications, a court-ordered reapportionment plan of a state legislature must avoid use of multimember districts, and, as well, must ordinarily achieve the goal of population equality with little more than de minimis variation."

Chapman v. Meier, 420 U. S. 1, 420 U. S. 26-27. Here, where the District Court's plan departed from the "population equality" norm in deference to Mississippi's historic respect for the integrity of county boundaries in conjunction with legislative districts, the resulting maximum population deviations of 16.5% in the Senate districts and 19.3% in the House districts cannot be characterized as de minimis. Pp. 431 U. S. 414-417.

(b) "With a court plan, any deviation from approximate population equality must be supported by enunciation of historically significant state policy or unique features," Chapman v. Meier, supra, at 420 U. S. 26, and the District Court failed here to identify any such "unique features" of the Mississippi political structure as would permit a judicial protection of county boundaries in the teeth of the judicial duty to "achieve the goal of population equality with little more than de minimis variation." Pp. 431 U. S. 417-420.

Page 431 U. S. 408

2. With respect to the claim that the District Court plan's reapportionment of some districts impermissibly dilutes Negro voting strength, the District Court on remand should either draw legislative districts that are reasonably contiguous and compact, so as to put to rest suspicions that Negro voting strength is being purposefully diluted, or explain precisely why in a particular instance that goal cannot be accomplished. Pp. 431 U. S. 421-426.

Reversed and remanded.

STEWART, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined, and in Parts I and II of which BURGER, C.J., and BLACKMUN, J., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, in which BURGER, C.J., joined, post, p. 431 U. S. 426. POWELL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 431 U. S. 430. REHNQUIST, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the cases.

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