369 U.S. 186 (1962), 6, Baker v. Carr

Docket Nº:No. 6
Citation:369 U.S. 186, 82 S.Ct. 691, 7 L.Ed.2d 663
Party Name:Baker v. Carr
Case Date:March 26, 1962
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 186

369 U.S. 186 (1962)

82 S.Ct. 691, 7 L.Ed.2d 663

Baker

v.

Carr

No. 6

United States Supreme Court

March 26, 1962

Argued April 19-20, 1961

Set for reargument May 1, 1961

Reargued October 9, 1961

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE

Syllabus

Appellants are persons allegedly qualified to vote for members of the General Assembly of Tennessee representing the counties in which they reside. They brought suit in a Federal District Court in Tennessee under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988, on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated, to redress the alleged deprivation of their federal constitutional rights by legislation classifying voters with respect to representation in the General Assembly. They alleged that, by means of a 1901 statute of Tennessee arbitrarily and capriciously apportioning the seats in the General Assembly among the State's 95 counties, and a failure to reapportion them subsequently notwithstanding substantial growth and redistribution of the State's population, they suffer a "debasement of their votes," and were thereby denied the equal protection of the laws guaranteed them by the Fourteenth Amendment. They sought, inter alia, a declaratory judgment that the 1901 statute is unconstitutional and an injunction restraining certain state officers from conducting any further elections under it. The District Court dismissed the complaint on the grounds that it lacked jurisdiction of the subject matter and that no claim was stated upon which relief could be granted.

Held:

1. The District Court had jurisdiction of the subject matter of the federal constitutional claim asserted in the complaint. Pp. 198-204.

2. Appellants had standing to maintain this suit. Pp. 204-208.

3. The complaint's allegations of a denial of equal protection presented a justiciable constitutional cause of action upon which appellants are entitled to a trial and a decision. Pp. 208-37.

179 F.Supp. 824, reversed and cause remanded

Page 187

BRENNAN, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

This civil action was brought under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988 to redress the alleged deprivation of federal constitutional rights. The complaint, alleging that, by means of a 1901 statute of Tennessee apportioning the members of the General Assembly among the State's 95 counties,1 "these plaintiffs and others similarly situated,

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are denied the equal protection of the laws accorded them by the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States by virtue of the debasement of their votes," was dismissed by a three-judge court convened under 28 U.S.C. § 2281 in the Middle District of Tennessee.2 The court held that it lacked jurisdiction of the subject matter and also that no claim was stated upon which relief could be granted. 179 F.Supp. 824. We noted probable jurisdiction of the appeal. 364 U.S. 898.3 We hold that the dismissal was error, and remand the cause to the District Court for trial and further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

The General Assembly of Tennessee consists of the Senate, with 33 members, and the House of Representatives, with 99 members. The Tennessee Constitution provides in Art. II as follows:

Sec. 3. Legislative authority -- Term of office. -- The Legislative authority of this State shall be vested in a General Assembly, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives, both dependent on the people; who shall hold their offices for two years from the day of the general election.

Sec. 4. Census. -- An enumeration of the qualified voters, and an apportionment of the Representatives in the General Assembly, shall be made in the year one thousand eight hundred and seventy-one and within every subsequent term of ten years.

Sec. 5. Apportionment of representatives. -- The number of Representatives shall, at the several

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periods of making the enumeration, be apportioned among the several counties or districts, according to the number of qualified voters in each, and shall not exceed seventy-five; until the population of the State shall be one million and a half, and shall never exceed ninety-nine; Provided, that any county having two-thirds of the ratio shall be entitled to one member.

Sec. 6. Apportionment of senators. -- The number of Senators shall, at the several periods of making the enumeration, be apportioned among the several counties or districts according to the number of qualified electors in each, and shall not exceed one-third the number of representatives. In apportioning the Senators among the different counties, the fraction that may be lost by any county or counties in the apportionment of members to the House of Representatives shall be made up to such county or counties in the Senate, as near as may be practicable. When a district is composed of two or more counties, they shall be adjoining, and no county shall be divided in forming a district.

Thus, Tennessee's standard for allocating legislative representation among her counties is the total number of qualified voters resident in the respective counties, subject only to minor qualifications.4 Decennial reapportionment

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in compliance with the constitutional scheme was effected by the General Assembly each decade from 1871 to 1901. The 1871 apportionment5 was preceded by an 1870 statute requiring an enumeration.6 The 1881 apportionment involved three statutes, the first authorizing an enumeration, the second enlarging the Senate from 25 to

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33 members and the House from 75 to 99 members, and the third apportioning the membership of both Houses.7 In 1891, there were both an enumeration and an [82 S.Ct. 696] apportionment.8 In 1901, the General Assembly abandoned separate enumeration in favor of reliance upon the Federal Census, and passed the Apportionment Act here in controversy.9 In the more than 60 years since that action, all proposals in both Houses of the General Assembly for reapportionment have failed to pass.10

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Between 1901 and 1961, Tennessee has experienced substantial growth and redistribution of her population. In 1901, the population was 2,020,616, of whom 487,380 were eligible to vote.11 The 1960 Federal Census reports the State's population at 3,567,089, of whom 2,092,891 are eligible to vote.12 The relative standings of the counties in terms of qualified voters have changed significantly. It is primarily the continued application of the 1901 Apportionment Act to this shifted and enlarged voting population which gives rise to the present controversy.

Indeed, the complaint alleges that the 1901 statute, even as of the time of its passage,

made no apportionment of Representatives and Senators in accordance with the constitutional formula . . . , but instead arbitrarily and capriciously apportioned representatives [82 S.Ct. 697] in the Senate and House without reference . . . to any logical or reasonable formula whatever.13

It is further alleged

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that, "because of the population changes since 1900, and the failure of the Legislature to reapportion itself since 1901," the 1901 statute became "unconstitutional and obsolete." Appellants also argue that, because of the composition of the legislature effected by the 1901 Apportionment Act, redress in the form of a state constitutional amendment to change the entire mechanism for reapportioning, or any other change short of that, is difficult or impossible.14 The complaint concludes that

these plaintiffs

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and others similarly situated, are denied the equal protection [82 S.Ct. 698] of the laws accorded them by the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States by virtue of the debasement of their votes.15

They seek a

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declaration that the 1901 statute is unconstitutional and an injunction restraining the appellees from acting to conduct any further elections under it. They also pray that, unless and until the General Assembly enacts a valid reapportionment, the District Court should either decree a reapportionment by mathematical application of the Tennessee constitutional formulae to the most recent Federal Census figures, or direct the appellees to conduct legislative elections, primary and general, at large. They also pray for such other and further relief as may be appropriate.

I

THE DISTRICT COURT's OPINION AND ORDER OF DISMISSAL

Because we deal with this case on appeal from an order of dismissal granted on appellees' motions, precise identification

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of the issues presently confronting us demands clear exposition of the grounds upon which the District Court rested in dismissing the case. The dismissal order recited that the court sustained the appellees' grounds "(1) that the Court lacks jurisdiction of the subject matter, and (2) that the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. . . ."

In the setting of a case such as this, the recited grounds embrace two possible reasons for dismissal:

First: That the facts and injury alleged, the legal bases invoked as creating the rights and duties relied upon, and the relief sought, fail to come within that language of Article III of the Constitution and of the jurisdictional statutes which define those matters concerning which United States District Courts are empowered to act;

Second: That, although the matter is cognizable and facts are alleged which establish infringement of appellants' rights as a result of state legislative action departing from a federal constitutional [82 S.Ct. 699] standard, the court will not proceed because the matter is considered unsuited to judicial inquiry or adjustment.

We treat the first...

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