Historical Reynolds v Sims: Due Process and Legislative Apportionment
In Reynolds v Sims, 377 U.S. 533 (1964), the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Alabama’s legislative apportionment scheme. By a vote of 8-1, the justices held that the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause requires that both houses of a state legislature be apportioned on a population basis.
The Facts of Reynolds v Sims
Voters in several Alabama counties filed suit against various officials having state election duties. They alleged that the existing state legislative apportionment provisions were unconstitutional as they were violating of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. The complaint alleged serious discrimination against voters in counties whose populations had grown proportionately far more than others since the 1900 census which, despite Alabama’s constitutional requirements for legislative representation based on population and for decennial reapportionment, formed the basis for the existing legislative apportionment.
Pursuant to the 1901 constitution, the legislature consisted of 106 representatives and 35 senators for the State’s 67 counties and senatorial districts; each county was entitled to at least one representative; each senate district could have only one member; and no county could be divided between two senate districts. The apportionment scheme resulted in significant population variance ratios as great as 41-to-1 in the Alabama Senate.
The Majority Decision in Reynolds v Sims
The Court struck down the state legislative apportionment scheme as unconstitutional. Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote the majority opinion, which largely relied on the principle of “one person, one vote.”
The Court specifically held that the Equal Protection Clause requires substantially equal legislative representation for all citizens in a State regardless of where they reside. As Chief Justice Earl Warren noted, “Legislators represent people, not trees or acres. Legislators are elected by voters, not farms or cities or economic interests.”
As the Court further explained, states must employ “honest and good faith” efforts to construct districts as nearly of equal population as practicable. “The federal constitutional requirement that both houses of a state legislature must be apportioned on a population basis means that, as nearly as practicable, districts be of equal population, though mechanical exactness is not required,” the Chief Justice wrote.
The Dissent in Reynolds v Sims
Justice John Marshall Harlan II as the only justice to dissent from the landmark decision. He argued that the majority ignored the original intent the Equal Protection Clause when it extended its protections to voting rights.
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