Federal court strikes down Georgia legislative districting plan

by Peter Wagner, January 11, 2004

On February 10, 2004, a three judge panel struck down Georgia’s legislative redistricting plan. The case is Larios v. Cox. Traditionally, the rule has been that deviations in the size of state legislative districts that are less than 10% do not require a justification. (Greater deviations require justification that a legitimate state interest, such as preserving community boundaries, was served.)

Here, the Court ruled that a deliberate and consistent attempt to dilute the votes of suburban Georgian districts was impermissible under the Equal Protection principle. The 10% rule could not be used to protect districts deliberated designed to skew the weights of different regions in violation of Reynolds v. Sims and the one person one vote principle.

If upheld, this decision may have several powerful effects. First, it would draw more attention to the New York Senate’s legislative districts, which were drawn to deliberately overpopulate urban districts (especially Queens County) and to underpopulate rural districts. Similarly, as I wrote in Importing Constituents: Prisoners and Political Clout in New York, the regional bias implicit in relying on Census Bureau miscounts of prisoners may also come in to question:

The fact that the Queens districts are all equally oversized, right on the maximum border of illegality, suggests that the deviations were not driven by a concern to protect political boundaries, but rather to weigh different communities differently. The spokesperson for Senator Dean Skelos, the head of the senate’s redistricting task force, has defended the population deviations by telling the New York Times: “It’s legal, what more do you want?””[25] Whether such a concerted effort to push the limits of White v. Regester has ever been tested in Court is unclear, but combined with the counting of urban prisoners as rural residents, the problem of unequal district sizes in the senate is even larger than it appears on first glance.

See also Rick Hasen’s analysis on ElectionLawBlog and read the court’s opinion in Larios v. Cox.

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