Wyoming Redistricting Cases:  the 1990s

Gorin v. Karpan775 F.Supp. 1430 (D. Wyo. 1991)

The Wyoming Constitution, Art. III, § 3, mandates that each county shall constitute a senatorial and representative district and that each county shall have at least one senator and one representative . In the 1960s, this provision was held unconstitutional as applied to reapportionment in the state Senate. Schaefer v. Thomson, 240 F. Supp. 247 (D. Wyo. 1964), supplemental, 251 F. Supp. (D. Wyo. 1956),  aff'd per curiam sub. nom. Harrison v. Schaefer, 383 U.S. 269 (1966). The Legislature continued to provide each county with at least one representative regardless of how small the county population was.  Thus, the less populous counties had more than their fair share of voting power in the Legislature.

In 1991, the Wyoming Legislature enacted a plan following Art. III, § 3, allocating one representative to each county regardless of county population.  The remaining house seats were then allocated among the 15 more populous counties. The ideal ratio of citizens is calculated by dividing the state population by the number of house seats available. Under this calculation, the range of deviation from the ideal for house seats was from 65 percent overrepresentation  to 18 percent underrepresentation.  Senate reapportionment demonstrated lower but still significant deviations.

Under the federal case law, the general rule is that of "one person, one vote," with each vote having equal weight. Deviations from this ideal may not exceed 10 percent without sufficient justification by the State. With respect to both the House and the Senate, the Court held that the plan violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Legislature must disregard the state constitutional provision requiring each county be represented by at least one representative because of its inconsistency with the one-person, one-vote principle.

With a house maximum population deviation of approximately 83 percent and a senate maximum population deviation of approximately 58 percent, the Court found that these population inequalities were substantially in excess of the 10 percent threshold. The burden then shifted to the State to demonstrate that the Legislature fulfilled its good faith obligation to achieve substantial voter equality.

The Court found the reapportionment plan was facially invalid because the deviations created population inequalities that exceeded the limits of equal protection. Further, the deviations were avoidable, because the Legislature had prepared several plans that were better in terms of voter equality. The Court found:

1. The plan's intrusion on the one-person, one-vote principle was significant; 70 percent of the State's citizens were underrepresented in the House, 68 percent in the Senate.

2. The Legislature's justifications for adopting the plan were unpersuasive. The policy of county representation was carried to the extreme and was unjustified on the basis of Wyoming's uniqueness.  The fact that the 1991 plan was statistically indistinguishable from the State's previous court-approved, county-based reapportionment plans was irrelevant under the case law.

3. While the plan furthered the policy of preserving the integrity of county boundaries, the Legislature allowed this policy to intrude impermissibly  on the "one-person, one-vote" principle.

4. Other plans were offered that would have furthered state goals and simultaneously reduced inequality in voting power.

The Court's clear guidance was that the Legislature must make substantial population equality its overriding objective, and the State would need to have a rational policy supported by legitimate considerations to exceed the de minimus 10 percent deviation.

Gorin v. Karpan788 F. Supp. 1199 (D. Wyo. 1992)

In response to the District Court's 1991 decision, the Legislature enacted a new plan in 1992. The Court upheld that plan.

The 1992 Act was a "nested" plan wherein each Senate district was formed by combining two adjacent House districts. The range of relative population deviation for each house of the Legislature was less than 10 percent, and therefore fell below the de minimus threshold. Thus, the Court concluded the act met the overriding objective of substantial equality of population among various legislative districts.

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