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The apportionment of election districts was a state issue until 1962 and 1964 Supreme Court rulings, requiring that both houses of state legislatures must be apportioned substantially on population, transferred the issue to the national arena. These rulings, spelling out the basic constitutional right to equal representation, prompted introduction in Congress of constitutional amendments and laws to subvert the Court’s one-person, one-vote doctrine. Leagues in 33 states already had positions on the issue when, in 1965, the League’s national council adopted a study on apportionment. By January 1966, the League had reached national member agreement on a position that both houses of state legislatures must be apportioned substantially on population. The 1972 Convention extended the position to cover all voting districts.
League action on both the national and state levels during the late 1960s had a significant role in the defeat of efforts to circumvent the Court’s ruling. The League first lobbied in Congress against the Dirksen Amendment, which would have allowed apportionment of one legislative house based on factors other than population, and later worked to defeat resolutions to amend the Constitution by petition of state legislatures for a constitutional Convention. Successful efforts to fend off inadvisable constitutional amendments have left the responsibility for work on this position at the state and local levels. Successive League Conventions have reaffirmed the commitment to an LWVUS Apportionment position to be available for action should the need arise. After the 1980 census, state and local Leagues used this position to work for equitable apportionment of state and local representative bodies.
Leagues conducted projects to encourage the widest possible participation in the 1990 census as a way to ensure the most accurate population base for apportionment and redistricting. Leagues also work for equitable apportionment and redistricting of all elected government bodies, using techniques from public education and testimony to monitoring and litigation.
Behind the League position on Apportionment is a conviction that a population standard is the most equitable way of assuring that each vote is of equal value in a democratic and representative system of government. The term “substantially” used in Supreme Court decisions allows adequate leeway for districting to provide for any necessary local diversities, and to protect minority representation under the League’s Voting Rights position.
Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, as amended in 1982, provides for the creation of majority-minority districts as the primary means to remedy a state pattern of racial gerrymandering. In a controversial 1993 case, Shaw v. Reno, the Supreme Court ignored the Voting Rights Act and ruled that the creation of majority-minority districts with extremely irregular shapes violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The key issue in the Shaw case was the shape of the district, not the constitutionality of majority-minority districts. The shapes of majority-minority districts created after the 1990 census were determined by the requirements of the Voting Rights Act, and—at least in some states—by political considerations or incumbent interests. Consequently, when incumbent political considerations conflict with remedying a history of racial gerrymandering by creating majority-minority districts that will pass muster, the Voting Rights Act takes precedence.
In 1998-99 the League urged Congress to fully fund the 2000 census and to support scientific sampling as the means to ensure the most accurate count. State Leagues also have worked to ensure that scientific sampling is used for redistricting within the states.
In 2006, the League joined other groups in holding a nonpartisan redistricting conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. As a result of that meeting, the League and partners released a report, “Building a National Redistricting Reform Movement,” which looks at lessons learned from unsuccessful redistricting reform attempts in 2005 and suggests strategies to pursue and pitfalls to avoid in future reform efforts.
In 2009, the LWVEF was an official partner of the U.S. Census, with the goal of getting everyone counted. LWVEF staff worked closely with national partners (such as civil rights and Latino groups), and provided information and support to state and local Leagues in their efforts to minimize an undercount.
Leagues across the country continue to press for redistricting reform at the state level and the LWVUS has gone to the Supreme Court with “friend-of-the-court” briefs aimed against political and racial gerrymandering. In 2009, the LWVEF hosted a unique redistricting conference that brought together experts and stakeholders from across the nation to discuss how to work together to influence the results of the state redistricting processes following the 2010 Census. The participants agreed upon several core principles and wrote a report emphasizing the importance of transparency in the redistricting process.
In 2011 and 2012, state Leagues played pivotal roles in advocating for improved redistricting processes. Leagues hosted public events, delivered much-quoted testimony before decision-making bodies, presented alternative maps, launched major public education and media campaigns, and engaged key allies to promote transparent and fair redistricting processes. Key League priorities included advocating for adequate public comment periods before and after the introduction of redistricting proposals, disclosure of committee timelines and other important details, and opportunities for community groups, especially those representing diverse voices, to get involved.
Following the 2011 redistricting process, several state Leagues engaged in litigation or statewide ballot initiative campaigns to challenge unsatisfactory redistricting outcomes. The Texas League and LWVEF jointly submitted comments urging the US Department of Justice to object to VRA Section 5 preclearance of what the League deemed a discriminatory redistricting proposal. Elsewhere, the North Carolina League joined other civil rights groups in challenging a redistricting plan that would negatively impact minority and other voters, the Arizona League filed an amicus brief which successfully urged the state Supreme Court to protect that state’s independent redistricting commission, and the Pennsylvania League participated in a successful citizen’s appeal of a state plan.
In California, League leaders worked throughout 2011 and 2012 to defend and ensure success for that state’s new Independent Citizens Commission process in California, and also provided a detailed analysis and recommendations for future redistricting commissions. In Florida, the League spearheaded multiple legislative and legal efforts to ensure the integrity of new, groundbreaking redistricting criteria would be upheld. The Florida League garnered an impressive array of statewide and national media coverage for its efforts.
In Ohio, the League led a high-profile—yet ultimately unsuccessful-- effort to pass a November 2012 ballot initiative that would have instituted an independent redistricting commission.
Public opinion polling has shown high public support for taking the redistricting process out of the hands of partisan legislatures, and many Leagues continue to consider how best to achieve more representative processes. Leagues remain engaged in pending legal challenges or appeals in several states and continue to pursue a range of reform opportunities to reform the redistricting process. In early 2012, LWVEF published “Shining a Light: Redistricting Lessons Learned”, which lays out key League priorities related to redistricting reform. The publication has been shared widely with Leagues and partners nationwide.
Statement of Position on Apportionment, as Announced by National Board, January 1966 and Revised March 1982:
The League of Women Voters of the United States believes that congressional districts and government legislative bodies should be apportioned substantially on population. The League is convinced that this standard, established by the Supreme Court, should be maintained and that the U.S. Constitution should not be amended to allow for consideration of factors other than population in apportionment.
See also the position on Voting Rights, which applies to apportionment issues. Leagues applying the Apportionment position should be aware that the Voting Rights position (and League action supporting the Voting Rights Act) recognizes that both the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act require that reapportionment not dilute the effective representation of minority citizens.