Legislative Reapportionment Plans for the State House and Senate With Less Than 10% Deviation
In Cox v. Larios, 159 L. Ed. 2d 831, 542 U.S. 947, 124 S. Ct. 2806 (2004), the United States Supreme Court has recently held, albeit in a summary affirmance, that as far as state or local constitutional reapportionment claims are concerned, there is no "safe harbor" if 10% or less is met.
In Cox, the Supreme Court affirmed the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia's judgment that Georgia's legislative reapportionment plans for the State House of Representatives and Senate that had less than 10% deviation, read in that portion of its opinion titled "Traditional Redistricting Criteria," violated the "one-person, one-vote" principle of equal protection because there was no justification for that deviation. Justice Stevens, joined by Justice Breyer in a concurring opinion, stated:
In challenging the District Court's judgment, appellant invites us to weaken the one-person, one-vote standard by creating a safe harbor for population deviations of less than ten percent, within which districting decisions could be made for any reason whatsoever.
The Court properly rejects that invitation.
After our recent decision in Vieth v. Jubelirer, 541 U.S. 267, 158 L. Ed. 2d 546, 124 S. Ct. 1769 (2004), the equal population principle remains the only clear limitation on improper districting practices, and we must be careful not to dilute its strength. Id. at 2808.
For the United States Supreme Court to no longer allow a "safe harbor" is understandable because it is now "practicable" for there to be much smaller deviations in districts because it is now much easier to manipulate the census data used in apportioning districts due to technological advances that have occurred since 1973.
What used to take hours to hand-calculate when shifting census tracts can now be calculated in seconds with computers.
What the Supreme Court seems to require is that deviations, while permitted, now have to be justified as the smallest ones "practicable."