February 10, 2004

Federal Court Strikes Down Georgia Legislative Districting Plan

The three-judge court's opinion in Larios v. Cox is here. (Thanks to Nate Persily for bringing this to my attention.) The court struck down Georgia legislative districts on grounds that they failed to comply with the one person, one vote standard set forth by the Supreme Court. (The court upheld the congressional redistricting plan against a similar challenge.)

The common thinking in challenges to state and local districting is that deviations under 10% are allowed without the state coming forward with any reason for the deviation. See Amy Henson's listserv post. Deviations above 10% but below 17% appear to require some reason. The largest deviation in the Georgia case is 9.98% (i.e., under 10%), but the court nonetheless struck the plan down. The approach that 10% is no safe harbor is consistent with the Daly v. Hunt case, 93 F.3d 1212 (4th Cir. 1996), a case discussed in footnote "b" of the Election Law casebook on page 121.

On page 41 of Larios, the court explained that the deviations were not put in place to pursue any "legitimate" policy but "(1) to allow rural southern Georgia and inner-city Atlanta to maintain their legislative influence even as their rate of population growth lags behind that of the rest of the state; and (2) to protect Democratic incumbents." The court added on page 78 that it need not decide if partisan gerrymandering alone might be a sufficient reason for a deviation, given that the plan here was enacted as well to protect regionalism and some, but only some, incumbents.

Posted by Rick Hasen at February 10, 2004 02:31 PM