Montana Redistricting Cases:  the 1990s


Montana v. Department of Commerce775 F. Supp. 1358 (D. Mont. 1991)


Since the 1930 census, Congress has apportioned seats in the House of Representatives using the mathematical formula called the "method of equal proportions." The formula had been recommended by a committee of respected mathematicians appointed by the National Academy of Sciences to evaluate the various possible methods of apportionment. The committee chose the method of equal proportions as being the best for reducing both the relative difference between states in the population of districts and the relative difference between states in the number of persons per representative. Those ratios differ between states because every state is entitled to at least one representative, and the number of representatives assigned to a state must be a whole number. Thus, the congressional districts in each state must be the same size, but their size differs from one state to another.


Applying the method of equal proportions to the 1990 census count had caused Montana to drop from two congressional seats to one. Montana sued the Department of Commerce, home of the Census Bureau, alleging that the method of equal proportions did not achieve the greatest possible equality in the number of persons per representative.  The District Court found the statute unconstitutional and enjoined the Government from reapportioning the House of Representatives using the method of equal proportions.


United States Department of Commerce v. Montana,503 U.S. 442 (1992)


On appeal, the Supreme Court concurred that the method of equal proportions did not achieve the greatest possible equality in the number of representatives per district, but pointed out that the method did achieve the smallest relative difference between the populations of the districts in different States. As between alternative methods, each of which measured equality differently, the Court held that Congress had not abused its discretion in selecting the method of equal proportions.  Montana was left with only one congressional seat.


Old Person v. CooneyNo. CV-96-00004-GF-PGH (D. Mont. Oct. 28, 1998)


Native American residents of Montana's Indian reservations sued the Secretary of State and Governor claiming that:  (1) existing state House and Senate districts deny or abridge, on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group, Native Americans' right to vote, in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act; and (2) the existing redistricting plan was enacted and is being maintained with the racially discriminatory purpose of diluting Native Americans' voting strength in violation of Section 2.


The Court found that the Commission did not discriminate against Montana Indians and that the 1990 districting plan did not have the effect of discriminating against Montana’s Indians.  The Court held that the plaintiffs had not proven that non-Indians usually vote as a bloc to defeat Indian-preferred candidates.  It found that most Indians vote as Democrats and in many areas of the state and in many elections that preferred candidates win.  Thus, it could not find that the Indians in Montana have less access to the electoral process than do non-Indians.  The Court noted that the Voting Rights Act is not a guarantee for minorities to have candidates elected in equal proportion to their percentage in the population, but rather that it guarantees that minorities have an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice.


An appeal was filed March 8, 1999, on claims involving the Blackfeet and Flathead Indian Reservations.


Old Person v. Cooney, No. 98-36157 (9th Cir. Oct. 27, 2000)


A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit found that Montana’s 1992 redistricting plan was not adopted with a discriminatory purpose in violation of section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1973. However, the district court erred in its application of the third precondition of Thornburg v. Gingles, 478 U.S. 30 (1986), in relying in part on the electoral success of Indian candidates in majority-Indian House Districts when it concluded that white bloc voting in majority-white House Districts was not legally significant. The district court also erred in finding proportionality between the number of legislative districts in which American Indians constituted an effective voting majority and the American Indian share of the voting population within the state. These errors in combination may have affected the district court’s final ruling that there was no dilution of American Indian voting strength. The case was remanded to the district court.


Old Person v. Brown, No. CV-96-00004-PMP (D. Mont. Jan. 24, 2002)


Judge Phillip M. Pro found that no vote dilution had been demonstrated in the Flathead and Blackfeet Reservation districts that were created in the 1992 redistricting plan.


Old Person v. Brown, No. 02-35171 (9th Cir. Dec. 4, 2002)


A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit affirmed, concluding that “the district court did not clearly err in determining that the totality of circumstances did not establish vote dilution in the districts where plaintiffs resided.”




 State Contacts

Susan Fox 
Researcher 
Legislative Services Division 
Room 138, State Capitol 
Helena, MT 59620 
406/444-3064 voice 
406/444-3036 fax 
sfox@mt.gov

John MacMaster 
Staff Attorney 
Legislative Services Division 
Room 138, State Capitol 
Helena, MT 59620 
406/444-3064 voice 
406/444-3036 fax 
jmacmaster@mt.gov



ncsl.jpg Go to NCSL Redistricting home page



This page is maintained by the Redistricting Task Force for the National Conference of State Legislatures
Update:  October 24, 2003 (psw)
Comments:
peter.wattson@senate.leg.state.mn.us