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JUSTICES LIMIT VOTER REDISTRICTING

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Federal voting-rights law does not require creation of the largest possible number of minority-dominated election districts, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday in a Florida case.

The court unanimously threw out a court-ordered redistricting plan that had increased the number of Hispanic-dominated seats for the Florida House of Representatives.The justices said a lower court erred when it decided that Hispanic voters were shortchanged by an earlier House election plan adopted by state lawmakers. The lawmakers' plan complied with voting-rights law, the court said.

The court also ruled 5-4 in a separate case from Georgia that federal voting rights law does not require a county to expand its one-member county commission to give black residents a stronger voice.

The court rejected arguments that Bleckley County's single-member commission illegally dilutes black voting strength. Blacks make up 22 percent of the county's population but have never been able to elect a black commissioner.

In the Florida case, Justice David H. Souter wrote for the court that state House election districts adopted by lawmakers - which provided fewer Hispanic-dominated districts - did not violate the federal Voting Rights Act.

"No violation (of voting rights law) can be found here, where, in spite of continuing discrimination and racial block voting, minority voters form effective voting majorities in a number of districts roughly proportional to the minority voters' respective shares in the voting-age population," Souter wrote.

Today's cases have been closely watched as an indicator of the conservative high court's view of how much is required under the 1965 federal Voting Rights Act to give minorities a legitimate chance at the polls.

Some legal observers thought the justices' June 1993 ruling in a North Carolina case indicated a narrowing of the law's protection for minority voters. The court let white voters challenge a bizarrely shaped congressional district intended to benefit black voters.

In the case involving Florida House districts, the court said the federal voting rights law does not require creation of the largest possible number of minority-dominated election districts.

"Mere failure to guarantee a political feast" does not mean that minority voting strength has been illegally diluted, Souter wrote.

The justices also refused to order creation of more Florida state Senate election districts designed to benefit black and Hispanic voters.