After the 1980 census, Texas' congressional delegation increased from 24 to 27 members. A reapportionment plan, Senate Bill No. 1 (SB1), was enacted on August 14, 1981, and then submitted to the Attorney General for preclearance. While it was pending before him, suit was filed in the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Texas challenging the constitutionality of SB1 and its validity under § 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 79 Stat. 437, as amended, 42 U. S. C. § 1973. A three-judge court was empaneled, held a hearing, and delayed any further action until after the Attorney General acted. On January 29, 1982, the Attorney General entered an objection to SB1. Specifically, he objected to the lines drawn for two contiguous districts in south Texas, Districts 15 and 27.
SB1's treatment of Dallas County failed to meet the test of racial fairness for a court-ordered plan. Under SB1, minority strength in District 5, in Dallas County, would have gone from 29.1 percent to 12.1 percent. Apparently, the minority votes had been shifted to District 24, which increased in minority population from 37.4 percent to 63.8 percent. Judge Johnson reasoned that this change would reduce minority effectiveness in District 5 substantially and would not guarantee a "safe" seat in District 24. This "would result in a severe retrogression in the Dallas County area." Id., at 957, n. 39. He specifically recognized that SB1's plans for Dallas County had been formulated in response to the interests expressed by minority voters in creating a "safe" seat. He did not hold this legislative response to be unconstitutional, nor did he
Appellants, who are Republican Party officials in Texas, contend that the District Court simply substituted its own reapportionment preferences for those of the state legislature and that this is inconsistent with Wise v. Lipscomb, 437 U.S. 535 (1978); McDaniel v. Sanchez, 452 U.S. 130 (1981); and White v. Weiser, 412 U.S. 783 (1973).
The relevant principles that govern federal district courts in reapportionment cases are well established:
Weiser itself presents a good example of when such an intrusion is not necessary. We held there that the District Court erred when, in choosing between two possible court-ordered plans, it failed to choose that plan which most closely approximated the state-proposed plan. The only limits on judicial deference to state apportionment policy, we held, were the substantive constitutional and statutory standards to which such state plans are subject. Id., at 797.
We reached a similar conclusion in Whitcomb v. Chavis, 403 U.S. 124, 160-161 (1971), in which we held that the District Court erred in fashioning a court-ordered plan that rejected state policy choices more than was necessary to meet the specific constitutional violations involved. Indeed, our decision in Whitcomb directly conflicts with the lower court's order in this case. Specifically, we indicated that the District Court should not have rejected all multimember districts in the State, absent a finding that those multimember districts were unconstitutional. Ibid. We reached this conclusion despite the fact that we had previously held that "when district courts are forced to fashion apportionment plans, single-member districts are preferable to large multimember districts as a general matter." Connor v. Johnson, 402 U.S. 690, 692 (1971). See also Chapman v. Meier, 420 U.S. 1, 19 (1975) (indicating that court-ordered plans should, in some circumstances, defer to, or respect, a state policy of multimember districting).
It is true that this Court has held that court-ordered reapportionment plans are subject in some respects to stricter standards than are plans developed by a state legislature. Wise v. Lipscomb, supra, at 540; Connor v. Finch, 431 U.S. 407, 414 (1977). This stricter standard applies, however, only to remedies required by the nature and scope of the violation: "The remedial powers of an equity court must be adequate to the task, but they are not unlimited."
Whenever a district court is faced with entering an interim reapportionment order that will allow elections to go forward it is faced with the problem of "reconciling the requirements of the Constitution with the goals of state political policy." Connor v. Finch, supra, at 414. An appropriate reconciliation of these two goals can only be reached if the district court's modifications of a state plan are limited to those necessary to cure any constitutional or statutory defect. Thus, in the absence of a finding that the Dallas County reapportionment plan offended either the Constitution or the Voting Rights Act, the District Court was not free, and certainly was not required, to disregard the political program of the Texas State Legislature.
It is true that we have authorized District Courts to order or to permit elections to be held pursuant to apportionment plans that do not in all respects measure up to the legal requirements, even constitutional requirements. See, e. g., Bullock v. Weiser, 404 U.S. 1065 (1972); Whitcomb v. Chavis, 396 U.S. 1055 (1970). Necessity has been the motivating factor in these situations.
Because we are not now as familiar as the District Court with the Texas election laws and the legal and practical factors that may bear on whether the primary elections should be rescheduled, we vacate the District Court judgment and remand the case to that court for further proceedings. See Connor v. Waller, 421 U.S. 656 (1975); Wesberry v. Sanders, 376 U.S. 1, 4 (1964). Having indicated the legal error of the District Court, we leave it to that court in the first instance to determine whether to modify its judgment and reschedule the primary elections for Dallas County or, in spite of its erroneous refusal to adopt the SB1 districts for Dallas County, to allow the election to go forward in accordance with the present schedule.
The judgment of the Court shall issue forthwith.
"This Court recognizes that certain minority group members expressed a desire for a `safe' minority district in Dallas County. After consideration of numerous political factors, and substantial legislative battling, the Texas Legislature decided on the configurations in S.B.1 . . . . The legislature was at liberty to engage in such considerations. This Court, in fashioning a nonretrogressive apportionment plan does not have that privilege. It must evaluate the new plan without access to questions regarding the ability of separate minority groups to form coalitions or other political concerns.. . . It is not before this Court to determine whether considerations valid in the legislative context justify simply increasing swing-vote influence in one district at the expense of the influence previously enjoyed in a neighboring district. This Court determines, however, that, in the context of a court-ordered apportionment plan, such a trade-off would result in a retrogression in the position of racial minorities with respect to their effective exercise of the electoral franchise." 536 F. Supp., at 957, n. 9.
"Since the federal district courts will be acting in the stead of the Legislature we believe that the courts should attempt to effectuate the legislative judgment to the extent possible and modify the Legislature's plans only as necessary to meet the concerns raised in the objection letters. In other words, we believe the court should make such modifications to the plans as would normally be made by the Legislature if it were in session." App. to Juris. Statement F-3 (letter of Wm. Bradford Reynolds, Assistant Attorney General, to Texas Secretary of State).
In this Court, the Solicitor General takes a slightly different position. He contends that the question of what weight a district court should give to a legislative plan that is partially objected to by the Attorney General is substantial and, therefore, merits plenary consideration by this Court.