Massachusetts Redistricting Cases:  the 1990s

Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Mosbacher785 F. Supp. 230 (D. Mass. 1991)

The Constitution requires that the apportionment of seats in the House of Representatives be determined by an "actual enumeration" of persons "in each State," conducted every ten years. Art. I, 2, cl. 3; amdt.14, 2. In the 1990 census, the Census Bureau allocated the overseas employees of the Department of Defense to particular states, based on their "usual residence." Including these overseas military personnel in the counts of each state caused one congressional district to be shifted from Massachusetts to Washington. Massachusetts sued the Secretary of Commerce, alleging that the procedure was contrary to the language of the Constitution and arbitrary and capricious, in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act. The Massachusetts federal district court agreed.

Franklin v. Massachusetts505 U.S. 788 (1992)

On appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed.  The Court found that the Secretary's decision was not subject to the Administrative Procedures Act, because it was not a "final agency action." Rather, it formed the basis for the Secretary's report to the President of the population of each state, which the President was free to adopt or revise as he saw fit. The decision to allocate overseas federal employees to their home state based on their usual residence was consistent with the practice of the Census Bureau since the first census of trying to assign each person to the person's home state, even though they might be temporarily absent from it on the day of the census. Assuming that the overseas employees have retained ties to their home states, the Court found that the Secretary's method of allocation actually promotes equality of representation.

Black Political Task Force v. Connolly, No. 91-12750-H, 1992 WL 605665 (D. Mass. Feb. 10, 1992)

Congressional Districts are put in place for the election following the taking of the federal census.  Massachusetts is unique in that a constitutional amendment was approved by the General Court and the voters in the 1990 state election abolishing the requirement for a state census for the years ending in five, which was used to draw state Senate, House and Governor's Council districts.  Implementing legislation required local municipalities to utilize federal census data to draw local precincts in 1992, which became the building blocks for the redistricting of state districts for the state election of 1994.  Legislative activity and litigation concerned the timing of the state redistricting.

In Black Political Task Force v. Connolly, No. 91-12750-H, 1992 WL 605665 (D. Mass. Feb. 10, 1992), consolidated with Massachusetts Republican State Committee v. Connolly No. 91-12751-H, a three-judge federal court concluded that the Commonwealth's delaying until the fifth year constituted a risk that was justified by the difficulties involved in using, for the first time, federal rather than state census data as the basis of redistricting. The court noted that by the year 2000 the transitional problems would no longer be a factor.


In March 1997, the Massachusetts Attorney General and Secretary of State wrote to the Joint Committee on Election Laws of the General Court urging the Massachusetts Constitution be amended to require year 2000 numbers be used to redistrict for the election of 2002, since it seems likely that unless there is a plan  to redistrict in time for the year 2002 state election, the Commonwealth will face a lawsuit in 2001 or 2002 aimed at either requiring the Legislature to develop a redistricting plan. or persuading the court to develop a plan of its own, in time for the 2002 state election.  The process of amending the constitution must be initiated a least three years before the proposed amendment is to be presented to the voters for approval.  A majority vote of a joint session of the General Court for 1997-1998 and 1999-2000 would allow the amendment to appear on the year 2000 state election ballot.

State Contact

Bill Murray
Manager/MISER Eastern Office, Boston
P.O. Box 219, State House Station
Boston, MA 02133-0219
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