APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI.
Warren, Black, Douglas, Harlan, Brennan, Stewart, White, Fortas, Marshall
MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.
In Wesberry v. Sanders, 376 U.S. 1 (1964), we held that "while it may not be possible [for the States] to draw congressional districts with mathematical precision," id., at 18, Art. I, § 2, of the Constitution requires that "as nearly as is practicable one man's vote in a congressional
election is to be worth as much as another's." Id., at 7-8. We are required in these cases to elucidate the "as nearly as practicable" standard.
The Missouri congressional redistricting statute challenged in these cases resulted from that State's second attempt at congressional redistricting since Wesberry was decided. In 1965, a three-judge District Court for the Western District of Missouri declared that the Missouri congressional districting Act then in effect was unconstitutional under Wesberry but withheld any judicial relief "until the Legislature of the State of Missouri has once more had an opportunity to deal with the problem . . . ." Preisler v. Secretary of State of Missouri, 238 F.Supp. 187, 191. Thereafter, the General Assembly of Missouri enacted a redistricting statute, but this statute too was declared unconstitutional. The District Court, however, retained jurisdiction to review any further plan that might be enacted. Preisler v. Secretary of State of Missouri, 257 F.Supp. 953 (1966), aff'd, sub nom. Kirkpatrick v. Preisler, 385 U.S. 450 (1967). In 1967, the General Assembly enacted the statute under attack here, Mo. Rev. Stat., c. 128 (Cum. Supp. 1967), and the Attorney General of Missouri moved in the District Court for a declaration sustaining the Act and an order dismissing the case.
Based on the best population data available to the legislature in 1967, the 1960 United States census figures, absolute population equality among Missouri's 10 congressional districts would mean a population of 431,981 in each district. The districts created by the 1967 Act, however, varied from this ideal within a range of 12,260 below it to 13,542 above it. The difference between the least and most populous districts was thus 25,802. In percentage terms, the most populous district was 3.13%
above the mathematical ideal, and the least populous was 2.84% below.*fn1
The District Court found that the General Assembly had not in fact relied on the census figures but instead had based its plan on less accurate data. In addition, the District Court found that the General Assembly had rejected a redistricting plan submitted to it which provided for districts with smaller population variances among them. Finally, the District Court found that the simple device of switching some counties from one district to another would have produced a plan with markedly reduced variances among districts. Based on these findings, the District Court, one judge dissenting, held that the 1967 Act did not meet the constitutional standard of equal representation for equal numbers of people "as nearly as practicable," and that the State had failed to make any acceptable justification for the variances. 279 F.Supp. 952 (1967). We noted
probable jurisdiction but stayed the District Court's judgment pending appeal and expressly authorized the State "to conduct 1968 congressional elections under and pursuant to [the] 1967 . . . Act . . . ." 390 U.S. 939 (1968). We affirm.
Missouri's primary argument is that the population variances among the districts created by the 1967 Act are so small that they should be considered de minimis and for that reason to satisfy the "as nearly as practicable" limitation and not to require independent justification. Alternatively, Missouri argues that justification for the variances was established in the evidence: it is contended that the General Assembly provided for variances out of legitimate regard for such factors as the representation of distinct interest groups, the integrity of county lines, the compactness of districts, the population trends within the State, the high proportion of military personnel, college students, and other nonvoters in some districts, and the political realities of "legislative interplay."
We reject Missouri's argument that there is a fixed numerical or percentage population variance small enough to be considered de minimis and to satisfy without question the "as nearly as practicable" standard. The whole thrust of the "as nearly as practicable" approach is inconsistent with adoption of fixed numerical standards which excuse population variances without regard to the circumstances of each particular case. The extent to which equality may practicably be achieved may differ from State to State and from district to district. Since "equal representation for equal numbers of people [is] the fundamental goal for the House of Representatives," Wesberry v. Sanders, supra, at 18, the "as nearly as practicable" standard requires that the State make a good-faith effort to achieve precise mathematical
equality. See Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533, 577 (1964). Unless population variances among congressional districts are shown to have resulted despite such effort, the ...