• Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court’s rulings in these six landmark cases regarding state legislatures are the cornerstone of the reapportionment revolution.

These six decisions built on the Supreme Court’s Baker v. Carr[case]Baker v. Carr[Baker v. Carr] (1962) ruling that legislative reapportionment would no longer be considered a political question to be left to legislatures to decide but would be justiciable, or capable of litigation by the federal courts. Preliminary decisions include Gray v. Sanders[case]Gray v. Sanders[Gray v. Sanders] (1963), which struck down the unequal Georgia county unit system for electing governors and first set out the principle of one person, one vote, and Wesberry v. Sanders[case]Wesberry v. Sanders[Wesberry v. Sanders] (1964), in which the Court resolved questions of the reapportionment of U.S. House of Representatives seats within state boundaries on the same one person, one vote basis. In the Reapportionment Cases, the Court addressed reapportionment of state legislature. This was the most central issue of reapportionment because state legislatures drew all the lines their own and those for congressional seats. It was also the most complicated because of the variations in districting across the fifty states. This complexity was reflected in the six cases and the pattern of support and dissent in the justices’ varying responses to them.Reapportionment[case]Reynolds v. Sims[Reynolds v. Sims][case]WMCA v. Lomenzo[WMCA v. Lomenzo][case]Maryland Committee for Fair Representation v. Tews[Maryland Committee for Fair Representation v. Tews][case]Davis v. Mann[Davis v. Mann][case]Roman v. Sinock[Roman v. Sinock][case]Lucas v. Forty-fourth General Assembly of Colorado[Lucas v. Forty-fourth General Assembly of Colorado]Reapportionment;Reapportionment Cases[Reapportionment Cases]Reapportionment

Chief Justice Earl WarrenWarren, Earl;Reapportionment Cases[Reapportionment Cases] wrote the majority opinion in all six cases, which were decided by varying margins and dissents. In a way, Warren’s simple response to the complexity one person, one vote may have been the only consistent way to deal with the myriad circumstances found in the states. Equally consistent was Justice John M. Harlan II, who dissented in all six cases. Earlier, Harlan had had the support of the late Justice Felix Frankfurter in opposing the Court’s entrance into what Frankfurter called the “political thicket.” However, on Reynolds, Harlan stood alone against the Court. Harlan’s charge was answered by Warren, who wrote that the pervasive denial of effective representation was a denial of constitutionally protected rights demanding judicial protection. Indeed, the Court’s logic after footnote 4 of United States v. Carolene Products Co.[case]Carolene Products Co., United States v.[Carolene Products Co., United States v.] (1938) was that the Court was the only institution capable of correcting certain wrongs. Malapportioned districts were certainly such as issue, because no one could not expect the beneficiaries of malapportionment to vote themselves out of representation if they were voters or out of a job if they were state legislators.

As the Court moved away from the facts of Reynolds, the justices’ positions became more complex. In the Virginia case (Davis v. Mann), both Justices Tom C. Clark and Potter Stewart concurred with Warren, and Harlan dissented. In the Maryland (Tews) and Delaware (Sinock) cases, Clark concurred with Warren, and Stewart, in essence, voted with Harlan without joining in the dissent. In the New York case (WMCA v. Lomenzo), Stewart and Clark joined Harlan in dissent. In the Colorado case (Lucas), Stewart and Clark not only joined Harlan but also offered spirited dissents because of the special factors in that case. The Colorado malapportionment grew out of a plan and process imbedded in the Colorado constitution and not simply as the result of legislative action. From the simple vantage point of one person, one vote, this made no difference, but from the point of view of those who appreciated that a political “thicket” did exist, the difference was important. The considerations included in the dissents in Lucas reappear in subsequent cases in which the Court pressed more relentlessly toward absolute mathematical equality, eventually leading a majority of the Court to rethink the rigidity of this position.

Baker v. Carr

Colegrove v. Green

Due process, procedural

Fourteenth Amendment

Gray v. Sanders

Incorporation doctrine

Kirkpatrick v. Preisler

Mahan v. Howell

Representation, fairness of

Wesberry v. Sanders

Categories: History