Gomillion v. Lightfoot, 364 U.S. 339; 81 S. Ct. 125; 5 L. Ed. 2d 110 (1960)

Facts—In 1957, the Alabama state legislature passed Local Act No. 140 changing the boundaries of Tuskegee from a square to a twenty-eight-sided figure. This virtually excluded African Americans from being able to vote in city elections. A number of blacks challenged this law as a violation of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. The District Court dismissed for failure to state a cognizable claim, and a divided Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.

Question—Did the Alabama law altering the boundaries of Tuskegee violate the Fifteenth Amendment?


ReasonsJ. Frankfurter (9–0). Alabama’s action “was not an ordinary geographic redistricting measure even within familiar abuses of gerrymandering.” Precedents have established that “The [Fifteenth] Amendment nullifies sophisticated as well as simple-minded modes of discrimination.” Against the charge of racial discrimination, Alabama has not offered “any countervailing municipal function which Act 140 is designed to serve.” State apportionment actions are subject to constitutional restraints. Other cases in which the Court has refused to intervene did not “sanction a differential of racial lines.” An issue does not become “political” simply because it involves adjustment of municipal boundaries.

J. Douglas reiterated his dissent in Colegrove v. Green, 328 U.S. 549 (1946), where the Court had declared other voting issues to be political questions.

J. Whittaker would have relied on the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment rather than on the Fifteenth Amendment.

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