R, Reapportionment Cases,
Edited By: Kermit L. Hall, James W. Ely Jr., Joel B. Grossman
Edited By: Kermit L. Hall
collective name of six cases argued 13 November 1963 and decided 15 June 1964; involving Alabama—Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533 (1964), decided by vote of 8 to 1, Warren for the Court, Harlan in dissent; involving New York—WMCA v. Lomenzo, 377 U.S. 633 (1964), decided by vote of 6 to 3, Clark and Stewart joining Harlan in dissent; involving Maryland—Maryland Committee for Fair Representation v. Taws, 377 U.S. 656 (1964), decided by vote of 7 to 2, Clark concurring, Harlan in dissent, Stewart, refusing either to affirm or reverse, would nonetheless vacate the judgment of the court; involving Virginia—Davis v. Mann, 377 U.S. 656 (1964), decided by vote of 8 to 1, Warren for the Court, Clark, and Stewart concurring, Harlan in dissent; involving Delaware—Roman v. Sincock, 377 U.S. 695 (1964), decided by vote of 8 to 1, Warren for the Court, Clark and Stewart concurring, Harlan in dissent; and involving Colorado—Lucas v. Forty-Fourth General Assembly of Colorado, 377 U.S. 713 (1964), decided by vote of 6 to 3, Warren for the Court, Harlan, Clark and Stewart in *dissent.
These cases effectively declared the apportionment of every state legislature unconstitutional. They were prompted by *Baker v. Carr (1962), which opened federal courts to cases in which state legislatures were challenged for failing to provide equitable legislative districts and thereby depriving citizens of *equal protection of the laws. Earlier in its 1963 term, in *Wesberry v. Sanders (1964), the Supreme Court had extended the requirement of population equality (i.e., that districts must be as nearly equal as is practicable) to electoral districts for seats in the House of Representatives; that decision had been based on its reading of Article I, section 2.
Chief Justice Earl *Warren’s opinion in *Reynolds v. Sims, which along with Lucas was the leading case, reemphasized the “one man, one vote” principle announced the year before in *Gray v. Sanders (1963), a case setting aside Georgia’s gubernatorial county unit system. “Legislators represent people,” wrote Warren “not trees or acres. Legislators are elected by voters, not farms or cities or economic interests” (p. 562). The Court also rejected the “federal analogy” argument that the states, like Congress, could base only one house on population. As the Court repeatedly stated throughout the opinion, “The Equal Protection Clause requires that the seats in both Houses of a bicameral state legislature must be apportioned on a population basis.” Each state legislative district should be “as nearly of equal population as is practicable,” as based on the most recent decennial census (p. 577). The Court, however, noted, “Somewhat more flexibility may … be constitutionally permissible with respect to state legislative apportionment than in congressional districting” (p. 578).
(p. 827) Warren, responding to Justice John M. *Harlan’s *dissent and to the earlier warnings of Justice Felix *Frankfurter, commented: “We are cautioned about the dangers of entering into political thickets and mathematical quagmires. Our answer is this: a denial of constitutional protected rights demands judicial protection” (p. 567).
The other cases applied the doctrines of Reynolds to the facts of the involved states, except in Lucas v. Forty-Fourth General Assembly of Colorado, where the Court held that the fact that the Colorado apportionment plan had been incorporated into the state’s Constitution via the initiative process did not protect it from federal constitutional challenge.
Justices Tom *Clark and Potter *Stewart concurred in Reynolds and dissented in Lucas. They objected to the mathematical nicety of Reynolds and to extending the requirement of population equality to both chambers of a bicameral legislature. In Lucas, Stewart wrote, “The Court’s draconian pronouncement … finds no support in the words of the Constitution, in any prior decision of this Court, or in the 175-year political history of our Federal Union” (p. 746). Clark would have required only that the legislature avoid “invidious discrimination.” As long as one house was based on population, he would have permitted some departure from it in the other chamber “so as to take into account, on a rational basis, other factors in order to afford some representation to the various elements of the State” (p. 588).
Harlan dissented in all the cases, protesting what he characterized as this “placing basic aspects of state political systems under the pervasive overlordship of the federal judiciary” (p. 589). By 1964, he was the lone justice to take the view that federal courts should refuse to review any apportionment issues.
Following these cases, Senator Everett Dirksen of Illinois led a charge for a constitutional amendment to override the holding that both chambers of a state legislature must be based on equal population districts. He came close to securing the necessary petitions from two-thirds of the state legislatures to require Congress to call a convention to consider such an amendment, but by the early 1970s enough state legislatures had been reapportioned to undermine this effort (see reversals of court decisions by amendment). The newly reapportioned legislatures, after all, had no desire to return to the status quo ante the Reapportionment Cases.
See also fair representation.
J. W. Peltason