Legislative districting is highly political business. This Court has generally respected the competence of state legislatures to attend to the task. When race is the issue, however, we have recognized the need for judicial intervention to prevent dilution of minority voting strength. Generations of rank discrimination against African-Americans, as citizens and voters, account for that surveillance.
Two Terms ago, in Shaw v. Reno, 509 U. S. ___ (1993), this Court took up a claim -analytically distinct- from a vote dilution claim. Id., at ___ (slip op., at 21). Shaw authorized judicial intervention in -extremely irregular- apportionments, id., at ___ (slip op., at 10), in which the legislature cast aside traditional districting practices to consider race alone-in the Shaw case, to create a district in North Carolina in which African- Americans would compose a majority of the voters.
Today the Court expands the judicial role, announcing that federal courts are to undertake searching review of any district with contours -predominantly motivated- by race: -strict scrutiny- will be triggered not only when traditional districting practices are abandoned, but also when those practices are -subordinated to--given less weight than-race. See ante, at 15. Applying this new -race-as-predominant-factor- standard, the Court invali- dates Georgia's districting plan even though Georgia's Eleventh District, the focus of today's dispute, bears the imprint of familiar districting practices. Because I do not endorse the Court's new standard and would not upset Georgia's plan, I dissent.
Therefore, the fact that the Georgia General Assembly took account of race in drawing district lines-a fact not in dispute-does not render the State's plan invalid. To offend the Equal Protection Clause, all agree, the legislature had to do more than consider race. How much more, is the issue that divides the Court today.
-Districting inevitably has sharp political impact and inevitably political decisions must be made by those charged with the task.- White v. Weiser, 412 U. S. 783, 795-796 (1973). District lines are drawn to accommo- date a myriad of factors-geographic, economic, histori- cal, and political-and state legislatures, as arenas of compromise and electoral accountability, are best positioned to mediate competing claims; courts, with a mandate to adjudicate, are ill equipped for the task.
In 1890, the Georgia General Assembly authorized -white primaries-; keeping blacks out of the Democratic primary effectively excluded them from Georgia's political life, for victory in the Democratic primary was tantamount to election. McDonald et al., supra, at 68-69. Early in this century, Georgia Governor Hoke Smith persuaded the legislature to pass the -Disenfran- chisement Act of 1908-; true to its title, this measure added various property, -good character,- and literacy requirements that, as administered, served to keep blacks from voting. Id., at 69; see also Katzenbach, 383 U. S., at 310 (tests of this order were -specifically designed to prevent Negroes from voting-). The result, as one commentator observed 25 years later, was an -`almost absolute exclusion of the Negro voice in state and federal elections.'- McDonald et al., supra, at 70 (quoting R. Wardlaw, Negro Suffrage in Georgia, 1867-1930, p. 69 (unpublished 1932)).
Faced with a political situation scarcely open to self- correction-disenfranchised blacks had no electoral influence, hence no muscle to lobby the legislature for change-the Court intervened. It invalidated white primaries, see Smith v. Allwright, 321 U. S. 649 (1944), and other burdens on minority voting. See, e.g., Schnell v. Davis, 336 U. S. 933 (1949) (per curiam) (discrimina- tory application of voting tests); Lane v. Wilson, 307 U. S. 268 (1939) (procedural hurdles); Guinn v. United States, 238 U. S. 347 (1915) (grandfather clauses).
It was against this backdrop that the Court, constru- ing the Equal Protection Clause, undertook to ensure that apportionment plans do not dilute minority voting strength. See, e.g., Rogers v. Lodge, 458 U. S. 613, 617 (1982); Regester, 412 U. S., at 765; Wright v. Rockefeller, 376 U. S. 52, 57 (1964). By enacting the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Congress heightened federal judicial involvement in apportionment, and also fashioned a role for the Attorney General. Section 2 creates a federal right of action to challenge vote dilution. Section 5 requires States with a history of discrimination to preclear any changes in voting practices with either a federal court (a three-judge United States District Court for the District of Columbia) or the Attorney General.
These Court decisions and congressional directions significantly reduced voting discrimination against minorities. In the 1972 election, Georgia gained its first black Member of Congress since Reconstruction, and the 1981 apportionment created the State's first majority- minority district. This voting district, however, was not gained easily. Georgia created it only after the United States District Court for the District of Columbia refused to preclear a predecessor apportionment plan that included no such district-an omission due in part to the influence of Joe Mack Wilson, then Chairman of the Georgia House Reapportionment Committee. As Wilson put it only 14 years ago, -`I don't want to draw nigger districts.'- Busbee v. Smith, 549 F. Supp. 494, 501 (DC 1982).
In Shaw, the Court recognized a third basis for an equal protection challenge to a State's apportionment plan. The Court wrote cautiously, emphasizing that judicial intervention is exceptional: -[S]trict [judicial] scrutiny- is in order, the Court declared, if a district is -so extremely irregular on its face that it rationally can be viewed only as an effort to segregate the races for purposes of voting.- 509 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 10). -[E]xtrem[e] irregular[ity]- was evident in Shaw, the Court explained, setting out this description of the North Carolina voting district under examination: -It is approximately 160 miles long and, for much of its length, no wider than the I-85 corridor. It winds in snake-like fashion through tobacco country, financial centers, and manufacturing areas until it gobbles in enough enclaves of black neighborhoods. Northbound and southbound drivers on I-85 some- times find themselves in separate districts in one county, only to `trade' districts when they enter the next county. Of the 10 counties through which District 12 passes, five are cut into three different districts; even towns are divided. At one point the district remains contiguous only because it intersects at a single point with two other districts before crossing over them. One state legislator has re- marked that `-[i]f you drove down the interstate with both car doors open, you'd kill most of the people in the district.-' Washington Post, Apr. 20, 1993, p. A4. The district even has inspired poetry: `Ask not for whom the line is drawn; it is drawn to avoid thee.' Grofman, Would Vince Lombardi Have Been Right If He Had Said: `When It Comes to Redistricting, Race Isn't Everything, It's the Only Thing'?, 14 Cardozo L. Rev. 1237, 1261, n. 96 (1993) (internal quotation marks omitted).- Shaw, 509 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 3-4) (some citations and internal quotation marks omitted). The problem in Shaw was not the plan architects' consideration of race as relevant in redistricting. Rather, in the Court's estimation, it was the virtual exclusion of other factors from the calculus. Traditional districting practices were cast aside, the Court con- cluded, with race alone steering placement of district lines.
In contrast to the snake-like North Carolina district inspected in Shaw, Georgia's Eleventh District is hardly -bizarre,- -extremely irregular,- or -irrational on its face.- Id., at ___, ___, ___ (slip op., at 10, 12, 26). Instead, the Eleventh District's design reflects significant consideration of -traditional districting factors (such as keeping political subdivisions intact) and the usual political process of compromise and trades for a variety of nonracial reasons.- 864 F. Supp. 1354, 1397, n. 5 (SD Ga. 1994) (Edmondson, J., dissenting); cf. ante, at 16 (-geometric shape of the Eleventh District may not seem bizarre on its face-). The District covers a core area in central and eastern Georgia, and its total land area of 6,780 square miles is about average for the State. Defendant's Exh. 177, p. 4. The border of the Eleventh District runs 1,184 miles, in line with Georgia's Second District, which has a 1,243-mile border, and the State's Eighth District, with a border running 1,155 miles. See 864 F. Supp., at 1396 (Edmondson, J., dissenting).
Nor does the Eleventh District disrespect the bound- aries of political subdivisions. Of the 22 counties in the District, 14 are intact and 8 are divided. See Joint Exh. 17. That puts the Eleventh District at about the state average in divided counties. By contrast, of the Sixth District's 5 counties, none are intact, ibid., and of the Fourth District's 4 counties, just 1 is intact. Ibid. Seventy-one percent of the Eleventh District's boundaries track the borders of political subdivisions. See 864 F. Supp., at 1396 (Edmondson, J., dissenting). Of the State's 11 districts, 5 score worse than the Eleventh District on this criterion, and 5 score better. See Defendant's Exh. 177, p. 4. Eighty-three percent of the Eleventh District's geographic area is composed of intact counties, above average for the State's congressional districts. 864 F. Supp., at 1396 (Edmondson, J., dissent- ing). And notably, the Eleventh District's boundaries largely follow precinct lines.
Evidence at trial similarly shows that considerations other than race went into determining the Eleventh District's boundaries. For a -political reason--to accommodate the request of an incumbent State Senator regarding the placement of the precinct in which his son lived-the DeKalb County portion of the Eleventh District was drawn to include a particular (largely white) precinct. 2 Tr. 187, 202. The corridor through Effingham County was substantially narrowed at the request of a (white) State Representative. 2 Tr. 189-190, 212-214. In Chatham County, the District was trimmed to exclude a heavily black community in Garden City because a State Representative wanted to keep the city intact inside the neighboring First District. 2 Tr. 218-219. The Savannah extension was configured by -the narrowest means possible- to avoid splitting the city of Port Wentworth. 4 Tr. 172-174, 175-178, 181-183.
Georgia's Eleventh District, in sum, is not an outlier district shaped without reference to familiar districting techniques. Tellingly, the District that the Court's decision today unsettles is not among those on a statistically calculated list of the 28 most bizarre districts in the United States, a study prepared in the wake of our decision in Shaw. See Pildes & Niemi, 92 Mich. L. Rev., at 565.
And although the Attorney General refused preclear- ance to the first two plans approved by Georgia's legislature, the State was not thereby disarmed; Georgia could have demanded relief from the Department's objections by instituting a civil action in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, with ultimate review in this Court. Instead of pursuing that avenue, the State chose to adopt the plan here in controversy-a plan the State forcefully defends before us. We should respect Georgia's choice by taking its position on brief as genuine.
But ethnicity itself can tie people together, as volumes of social science literature have documented-even people with divergent economic interests. For this reason, ethnicity is a significant force in political life. As stated in a classic study of ethnicity in one city of immigrants: -[M]any elements-history, family and feeling, interest, formal organizational life-operate to keep much of New York life channeled within the bounds of the ethnic group. . . .
-. . . The political realm . . . is least willing to consider [ethnicity] a purely private affair. . . .
. . . . .
-[P]olitical life itself emphasizes the ethnic charac- ter of the city, with its balanced tickets and its special appeals . . . .- N. Glazer & D. Moynihan, Beyond the Melting Pot 19-20 (1963). See also, e.g., E. Litt, Beyond Pluralism: Ethnic Politics in America 2 (1970) (-[E]thnic forces play a surprisingly persistent role in our politics.-); Ethnic Group Politics, Preface ix (H. Bailey & E. Katz eds. 1969) (-[E]thnic identifications do exist and . . . one cannot really understand the American political process without giving special attention to racial, religious and national minorities.-).
To accommodate the reality of ethnic bonds, legisla- tures have long drawn voting districts along ethnic lines. Our Nation's cities are full of districts identified by their ethnic character-Chinese, Irish, Italian, Jewish, Polish, Russian, for example. See, e.g., S. Erie, Rainbow's End: Irish-Americans and the Dilemmas of Urban Machine Politics, 1840-1985, p. 91 (1988) (describing Jersey City's -Horseshoe district- as -lumping most of the city's Irish together-); Coveted Landmarks Add a Twist to Redis- tricting Task, L. A. Times, Sept. 10, 1991, pp. A1, A24 (-In San Francisco in 1961, . . . an Irish Catholic [State Assembly member] `wanted his district drawn following [Catholic] parish lines so all the parishes where he went to baptisms, weddings and funerals would be in his district' . . . .-); Stone, Goode: Bad and Indifferent, Washington Monthly, July-August 1986, pp. 27, 28 (discussing -The Law of Ethnic Loyalty- . . . a univer- sal law of politics,- and identifying -predominantly Italian wards of South Philadelphia,- a -Jewish Los Angeles district,- and a -Polish district in Chicago-). The creation of ethnic districts reflecting felt identity is not ordinarily viewed as offensive or demeaning to those included in the delineation.
In adopting districting plans, however, States do not treat people as individuals. Apportionment schemes, by their very nature, assemble people in groups. States do not assign voters to districts based on merit or achieve- ment, standards States might use in hiring employees or engaging contractors. Rather, legislators classify voters in groups-by economic, geographical, political, or social characteristics-and then -reconcile the competing claims of [these] groups.- Davis v. Bandemer, 478 U. S. 109, 147 (1986) (O'Connor, J., concurring in judgment).
That ethnicity defines some of these groups is a political reality. See supra, at 12-13. Until now, no constitutional infirmity has been seen in districting Irish or Italian voters together, for example, so long as the delineation does not abandon familiar apportionment practices. See supra, at 8-11. If Chinese-Americans and Russian-Americans may seek and secure group recognition in the delineation of voting districts, then African-Americans should not be dissimilarly treated. Otherwise, in the name of equal protection, we would shut out -the very minority group whose history in the United States gave birth to the Equal Protection Clause.- See Shaw, 509 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 4) (Stevens, J., dissenting).
Special circumstances justify vigilant judicial inspec- tion to protect minority voters-circumstances that do not apply to majority voters. A history of exclusion from state politics left racial minorities without clout to extract provisions for fair representation in the lawmak- ing forum. See supra, at 4-6. The equal protection rights of minority voters thus could have remained unrealized absent the Judiciary's close surveillance. Cf. United States v. Carolene Products Co., 304 U. S. 144, 153, n. 4 (1938) (referring to the -more searching judicial inquiry- that may properly attend classifications adversely affecting -discrete and insular minorities-). The majority, by definition, encounters no such blockage. White voters in Georgia do not lack means to exert strong pressure on their state legislators. The force of their numbers is itself a powerful determiner of what the legislature will do that does not coincide with perceived majority interests.
State legislatures like Georgia's today operate under federal constraints imposed by the Voting Rights Act-constraints justified by history and designed by Congress to make once-subordinated people free and equal citizens. But these federal constraints do not leave majority voters in need of extraordinary judicial solicitude. The Attorney General, who administers the Voting Rights Act's preclearance requirements, is herself a political actor. She has a duty to enforce the law Congress passed, and she is no doubt aware of the political cost of venturing too far to the detriment of majority voters. Majority voters, furthermore, can press the State to seek judicial review if the Attorney General refuses to preclear a plan that the voters favor. Finally, the Act is itself a political measure, subject to modifica- tion in the political process.
Only after litigation-under either the Voting Rights Act, the Court's new Miller standard, or both-will States now be assured that plans conscious of race are safe. Federal judges in large numbers may be drawn into the fray. This enlargement of the judicial role is unwarranted. The reapportionment plan that resulted from Georgia's political process merited this Court's approbation, not its condemnation. Accordingly, I dissent.
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