379 U.S. 433 (1965), 178, Fortson v. Dorsey

Docket Nº:No. 178
Citation:379 U.S. 433, 85 S.Ct. 498, 13 L.Ed.2d 401
Party Name:Fortson v. Dorsey
Case Date:January 18, 1965
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 433

379 U.S. 433 (1965)

85 S.Ct. 498, 13 L.Ed.2d 401




No. 178

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 18, 1965

Argued December 10, 1964




Under Georgia's 1962 Senatorial Reapportionment Act the State is divided into senatorial districts that are conceded to be substantially equal in population. Except for the seven most populous counties, from one to eight counties comprise a district and the voters therein, on a district-wide basis, elect the senator for that district. The seven most populous counties are divided into from two to seven districts each, and the voters in each such county, instead of electing only one senator from the district in which they reside, elect, on a county-wide basis, that number of senators that the county has districts. Appellees, registered voters in multidistrict counties of Georgia, brought this action in the Federal District Court against the Secretary of State and local election officials, seeking a decree that the county-wide voting requirement in the seven multi-district counties violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. A three-judge District Court granted appellees' motion for summary judgment, holding that the difference between electing senators in districts comprising a county or group of counties and in the multi-district counties constitutes invidious discrimination.

Held: equal protection does not necessarily require formation of all single-member districts in a State's legislative apportionment scheme. Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533, followed. Pp. 436-439.

228 F.Supp. 259 reversed.

Page 434

BRENNAN, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Georgia's 1962 Senatorial Reapportionment Act1 apportions the 54 seats of the [85 S.Ct. 499] Georgia Senate among the State's

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159 counties. The 54 senatorial districts created by the Act are drawn, so far as possible, along existing county lines. Thirty-three of the senatorial districts are made up of from one to eight counties each,2 and voters in these districts elect their senators by a district-wide vote. The remaining 21 senatorial districts are allotted in groups of from two to seven among the seven most populous counties, but voters in these districts do not elect a senator by a district-wide vote; instead, they join with the voters of the other districts of the county in electing all the county's senators by a county-wide vote.

The appellees, registered voters of Georgia, brought this action in the District Court for the Northern District of Georgia against the Secretary of State of Georgia and local election officials seeking a decree that the requirement of county-wide voting in the seven multi-district counties violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. A three-judge court granted appellees' motion for summary judgment, stating that

The statute causes a clear difference in the treatment accorded voters in each of the two classes of senatorial districts. It is the same law applied differently to different

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persons. The voters select their own senator in one class of districts. In the other, they do not. They must join with others in selecting a group of senators, and their own choice of a senator may be nullified by what voters in other districts of the group desire. This difference is a discrimination as between voters in the two classes. . . . The statute here is nothing more than a classification of voters in senatorial districts on the basis of homesite, to the end that some are allowed to select their representatives while others are not. It is an invidious discrimination tested by any standard.

228 F.Supp. 259, 263. We noted probable jurisdiction, 379 U.S. 810. We reverse.

Only last Term, in our opinion in Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533, decided after the decision below, we rejected the notion that equal protection necessarily requires the formation of single-member districts. In discussing the impact on bicameralism of the equal protection standards, we said, "One body could be composed of single-member districts, while the other could have at least some multimember districts." 377 U.S. at 577. (Emphasis supplied.) Again, in holding that a State might legitimately desire to maintain the integrity of various political subdivisions, such as counties, we said:

Single-member districts may be the rule in one State, while another State might desire to achieve some flexibility by creating multimember or floterial districts. Whatever the means of accomplishment, the overriding objective must be substantial equality of population among the various districts, so that the vote of any citizen is approximately equal in weight to that of any other citizen in the State.

377 U.S. at 579. (Emphasis supplied.)

It is not contended that there is not "substantial equality of population" among the 54 senatorial districts. The equal protection argument is focused solely upon the question whether county-wide voting in the seven multi-district

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counties results in denying the residents therein a vote "approximately equal in weight to that of" voters resident in the single-member constituencies. Contrary to the District Court, we cannot say that it does. There is clearly no mathematical disparity. Fulton County, the State's largest constituency, has a population nearly seven times larger than that of a single-district constituency, and, for that reason, elects seven senators. Every Fulton County voter, therefore, may vote for seven senators to represent his interests in the legislature. But the appellees assert that this scheme is defective because county-wide voting in multi-district counties could, as a matter of mathematics, result in the nullification of the unanimous choice of the voters of a district, thereby thrusting upon them a senator for whom no one in the district had voted. But this is only a highly hypothetical assertion3 that, in any event, ignores the [85 S.Ct. 501] practical realities

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of representation in a multi-member constituency. It is not accurate to treat a senator from a multi-district county as the representative of only that district within the county wherein he resides. The statute uses districts in multi-district counties merely as the basis of residence for candidates, not for voting or representation. Each district's senator must be a resident of that district, but, since has tenure depends upon the county-wide electorate, he must be vigilant to serve the interests of all the people in the county, and not merely those of people in his home district; thus, in fact, he is the county's, and not merely the district's, senator. If the weight of the vote of any voter in a Fulton County district, when he votes for seven senators to represent him in the Georgia Senate, is not the exact equivalent of that of a resident of a single-member constituency, we cannot say that his vote is not "approximately equal in weight to that of any other citizen in the State."

In reversing the District Court, we should emphasize that the equal protection claim below was based upon an alleged infirmity that attaches to the statute on its face. Agreeing with appellees' contention that the multi-member constituency feature of the Georgia scheme was per se bad, the District Court entered the decree on summary judgment. We treat the question as presented in that

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context, and our opinion is not to be understood to say that, in all instances or under all circumstances, such a system as Georgia has will comport with the dictates of the Equal Protection Clause. It might well be that, designedly or otherwise, a multi-member constituency apportionment scheme, under the circumstances of a particular case, would operate to minimize or cancel out the voting strength of racial or political elements of the voting population. When this is...

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