Tennessee Redistricting Cases:The 1990's

Langsdon v. Millsaps, 836 F. Supp. 447 (W.D. Tenn. 1993) aff'd sub nom. Millsaps v. Langsdon, 510 U.S. 1160 (1994)(mem.)

The plaintiffs challenged the 1992 House of Representatives redistricting plan as unconstitutional under the "one person, one vote" standards of the Fourteenth Amendment, as an illegal partisan gerrymander, and as a violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The three-judge panel in the district court declared the House Plan to be unconstitutional under the "one person, one vote" standard of the Equal Protection Clause. The state had argued that, due to a state constitutional prohibition on splitting counties and an earlier decision of the State Supreme Court (State ex rel. Lockert v. Crowell, 656 S.W.2d 836 (Tenn. 1983)) allowing a total variance up to 14 percent, the state plan with a variance of 13.9 percent should be allowed as necessary to comply with the state constitutional prohibition on splitting counties. The plaintiffs submitted a plan that split fewer counties than the House Plan with a total variance of less than ten percent. The court held "It is patently unreasonable to justify a 14 percent variance on the basis of not splitting county lines when fewer counties may be split while simultaneously decreasing that variance below the 10 percent goal."

Rural West Tennessee African-American Affairs Council, Inc. v. Mcwherter, 836 F. Supp. 453 (W.D. Tenn. 1993), vacated and remanded, 512 U.S. 1248 (1994)(mem)

In Rural West I, the three-judge panel held that the Senate Plan violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and that the Senate must draw a new plan with one additional majority-minority district to attain substantial statewide proportionality. The court defined a 55 percent voting age majority necessary to constitute a majority-minority district.

Rural West Tennessee African-American Affairs Council, Inc. v. Mcwherter, 877 F. Supp. 1096 (W.D. Tenn 1994), aff'd sub nom. Rural West Tennessee African-American Affairs Council, Inc. v. Sundquist, 116 S. Ct. 42 (1995)(mem.)

On remand in Rural West II, the court found that the Senate Plan did not violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act due to the inclusion of three influence districts (defined as 25 percent - 55 percent voting age minority population) in the "totality of the circumstances" analysis. When the influence districts were included, the court considered there to be substantial proportionality. Expressing a reluctance to interfere with the political judgments made by the legislature if substantial proportionality exists, the three-judge panel then upheld the Senate Plan.

Langsdon v. Darnell, 9 F. Supp.2d 880 (W.D. Tenn. 1998)

In 1994, the Tennessee General Assembly enacted a new plan of redistricting for the House of Representatives, Chapter 536, Plan A, which complied with the "one person, one vote" standard with a total variance of less than ten percent. Plaintiffs then challenged the plan as a violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, as an illegal partisan gerrymander, and as unconstitutional under the Constitution of Tennessee for splitting too many counties. The three-judge panel declined to assume supplemental jurisdiction and dismissed the state claim without prejudice. The partisan gerrymander claim was also dismissed without prejudice. Lacking any constitutional claim, the three-judge court was disbanded and the case continued before a single judge.

The Voting Rights Act challenge was that the plan diluted the voting strength of Blacks in Tennessee, including west Tennessee and rural west Tennessee. On a motion for summary judgment, plaintiffs limited their challenge to districts in six counties in rural west Tennessee where there were none had a Black majority. Defendants sought to expand the area under consideration to a seventh county, which had nine Black-majority districts. The Court limited its consideration to the six counties chosen by plaintiffs, saying they had the right to choose their own target. Because plaintiffs had not put in evidence a detailed analysis of the two legislative elections held since the 1994 plan was adopted, the Court denied their motion for summary judgment.

Rural West Tennessee African-American Affairs Council v. Sundquist, 29 F. Supp.2d 448 (W.D. Tenn. 1998), aff'd 209 F.3d 835 (6th Cir. 2000)

After a trial on the merits, the Court gave greater weight to the results of Black-White elections than to the results of White-White elections and greater weight to the results of legislative elections than to the results of other elections in the county and found that bloc voting by Whites usually defeated the candidate preferred by Blacks. After examining the "totality of the circumstances," the Court concluded that Plan A violatedSection 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Chapter 536 had also included a "Plan B" that provided for one Black-majority district in rural west Tennessee. By the terms of the law, when Plan A was struck down, Plan Bbecame effective.

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