CHAPMAN V. MEIER, 420 U. S. 1 (1975)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Chapman v. Meier, 420 U.S. 1 (1975)

Chapman v. Meier

No. 73-1406

Argued November 13, 1974

Decided January 27, 1975

420 U.S. 1


This case involves the issue of the constitutionality of a federal court-ordered reapportionment of the North Dakota Legislative Assembly. Following protracted state and federal litigation challenging various apportionment plans, statutes, and state constitutional provisions, including a federal action in which a three-judge District Court in 1965 approved a reapportionment plan that included five multi-member senatorial districts, appellants brought the present federal action against appellee, the Secretary of State, alleging that substantial population shifts had occurred and that the 1965 plan no longer met equal protection requirements, and requesting the court to order apportionment based on the 1970 census figures, to provide for single member districts, to declare the 1965 plan invalid, and to restrain appellee from administering the election laws under that plan. A three-judge District Court, holding that such plan failed to meet constitutional standards, approved another plan that called for five multi-member senatorial districts and that contained a 20% population variance between the largest and smallest senatorial districts.


1. This Court has jurisdiction of the appeal under 28 U.S.C. § 1253. Although the challenged reapportionment plan was court-ordered,

Page 420 U. S. 2

its enforcement is based on the State's Constitution and statutes, its effectuation directly depends on the state election law machinery, and the plan itself is a court-imposed replacement of state constitutional provisions and reapportionment statutes. Pp. 420 U. S. 13-14.

2. Absent persuasive justification, a federal district court, in ordering state legislative reapportionment, should refrain from imposing multi-member districts upon a State. Here, the District Court has failed to articulate a significant state interest supporting its departure from the general preference for single member districts in court-ordered reapportionment plans that this Court recognized in Connor v. Johnson, 402 U. S. 690, and unless the District Court can articulate such a "singular combination of unique factors" as was found to exist in Mahan v. Howell, 410 U. S. 315, 410 U. S. 333, or unless the 1975 Legislative Assembly appropriately acts, the court should proceed expeditiously to reinstate single member senatorial districts. Pp. 420 U. S. 121.

3. A population deviation of such magnitude in a court-ordered reapportionment plan as the 20% variance involved here is constitutionally impermissible absent significant state policies or other acceptable considerations requiring its adoption. The burden is on the District Court to elucidate the reasons necessitating any departure from approximate population equality and to articulate clearly the relationship between the variance and the state policy furthered. Here, the District Court's allowance of the 20% variance is not justified, as the court claimed, by the absence of "electorally victimized minorities," by the sparseness of North Dakota's population, by the division of the State caused by the Missouri River, or by the asserted state policy of observing geographical boundaries and existing political subdivisions, especially when it appears that other, less statistically offensive, reapportionment plans already devised are feasible. Pp. 420 U. S. 21-26.

372 F.Supp. 371, reversed and remanded.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Page 420 U. S. 3

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