Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533; 84 S. Ct. 1362; 11 L. Ed. 2d 506 (1964)

Facts—Taxpayers and voters of Jefferson County, Alabama, challenged the apportionment of the Alabama legislature, the most recent of which was based on the 1900 federal census despite the requirement of the state constitution that the legislature be apportioned decennially. As a result of population growth, Jefferson County and others were alleged to have suffered serious discrimination with respect to the allocation of legislative representation.

Also, there were two plans for apportionment pending. One was a proposed amendment to the state constitution. The other was a statute enacted as standby legislation to take effect if the proposed constitutional amendment should fail of adoption or be declared void by the courts. Neither plan provided for apportionment of either of the houses of the Alabama legislature on a population basis.

Question—Does Alabama’s law basing state legislative apportionment on factors other than population violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?


ReasonsC.J. Warren (8–1). “A predominant consideration in determining whether a state legislative apportionment scheme constitutes an invidious discrimination violative of rights asserted under the equal protection clause is that the rights allegedly impaired are individual and personal in nature. . . .

Legislators represent people, not trees or acres. The right to elect legislators in a free and unimpaired fashion is a bedrock of our political system.

. . . Overweighting and overvaluing the votes of persons living in one place has the certain effect of dilution and undervaluing the votes of those living elsewhere. Full and effective participation by all citizens in state government requires that each citizen have an equally effective voice in the election of members of his state legislature.”

As a basic constitutional standard the equal protection clause requires that the seats in both houses of a bicameral state legislature must be apportioned by population. An individual’s right to vote for state legislators is unconstitutionally impaired when its weight is in a substantial fashion diluted when compared with the votes of citizens living in other parts of the state. This applies to both houses of the legislature.

Attempted reliance on the federal analogy to state legislative apportionment arrangements “appears often to be little more than an after-the-fact rationalization offered in defense of maladjusted state apportionment arrangements.” Apportionment on a population basis requires an honest and good faith effort to set up districts on a practical basis. Mathematical exactness or precision is hardly a workable constitutional requirement.

In a concurring opinion, J. Clark argued that the Court should simply declare that the apportionment scheme in question was an indefensible “crazy quilt,” while J. Stewart pointed to sixty years of legislative inactivity as a cause for action.

In dissent, J. Harlan reiterated his views, expressed in earlier cases, that the Court had gone far beyond the mandate of the Fourteenth Amendment.

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