462 U.S. 835 (1983), 82-65, Brown v. Thomson

Docket Nº:No. 82-65.
Citation:462 U.S. 835, 103 S.Ct. 2690, 77 L.Ed.2d 214
Party Name:Margaret R. BROWN, et al., Appellants v. Thyra THOMSON, Secretary of State of Wyoming, et al.
Case Date:June 22, 1983
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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462 U.S. 835 (1983)

103 S.Ct. 2690, 77 L.Ed.2d 214

Margaret R. BROWN, et al., Appellants

v.

Thyra THOMSON, Secretary of State of Wyoming, et al.

No. 82-65.

United States Supreme Court.

June 22, 1983

Argued March 21, 1983.

[103 S.Ct. 2692] Syllabus[*]

SYLLABUS

The Wyoming Legislature consists of a Senate and a House of Representatives. The State Constitution provides that each of the State's 23 counties shall constitute a senatorial and representative district and shall have at least one senator and one representative, and requires the senators and representatives to be apportioned among the counties "as nearly as may be according to the number of their inhabitants." A 1981 Wyoming statute reapportioned the House of Representatives. Based on the 1980 census placing Wyoming's population at 469,557, the ideal apportionment would have been 7,337 persons per representative. But the reapportionment resulted in an average deviation from population equality of 16% and a maximum deviation of 89%. Niobrara County, the State's least populous county, was given one representative, even though its population was only 2,924, the legislature having provided that a county would have a representative even if the statutory formula rounded the county's population to zero. The legislature also provided that if Niobrara County's representation were held unconstitutional, it would be combined with a neighboring county in a single district so that the House would consist of 63 representatives. Appellants (members of the League of Women Voters and residents of seven counties in which the population per representative is greater than the state average) filed an action in Federal District Court, alleging that granting Niobrara County a representative diluted the voting privileges of appellants and other voters similarly situated in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, and seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. The District Court upheld the constitutionality of the reapportionment statute.

Held: Wyoming has not violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by permitting Niobrara County to have its own representative. Pp. 2695 - 2699.

(a) Some deviations from population equality may be necessary to permit the States to pursue other legitimate objectives such as "maintain[ing] the integrity of various political subdivisions" and "provid[ing] for compact districts of contiguous territory." Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533, 578, 84 S.Ct. 1362, 1390, 12 L.Ed.2d 506. But an apportionment plan with population disparities larger

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than 10% creates a prima facie case of discrimination and therefore must be justified by the State, the ultimate inquiry being whether the plan may reasonably be said to advance a rational state policy and, if so, whether the population disparities resulting from the plan exceed constitutional limits. Pp. 2695 - 2696.

(b) This case presents an unusually strong example of an apportionment plan the population variations of which are entirely the result of the consistent and nondiscriminatory application of a legitimate state policy. Wyoming, since statehood, has followed a constitutional policy of using counties as representative districts and ensuring that each county has one representative. Moreover, Wyoming has applied the factor of preserving political subdivisions free from any taint of arbitrariness or discrimination. Pp. 2696 - 2698.

[103 S.Ct. 2693] (c) Wyoming's policy of preserving county boundaries justifies the additional deviations from population equality resulting from the provision of representation for Niobrara County. Considerable population variations would remain even if Niobrara County's representative were eliminated. Under the 63-member plan, the average deviation per representative would be 13% and the maximum deviation would be 66%. These statistics make it clear that the grant of a representative to Niobrara County is not a significant cause of the population deviations in Wyoming. Moreover, the differences between the two plans are justified on the basis of the above policy of preserving county boundaries. By enacting the 64-member plan, the State ensured that this policy applies nondiscriminatorily, whereas the effect of the 63-member plan would be to deprive Niobrara County voters of their own representative. Pp. 2698 - 2699.

536 F.Supp. 780, affirmed.

COUNSEL

Sue Davidson argued the cause and filed a brief for appellants.

Randall T. Cox, Assistant Attorney General of Wyoming, argued the cause pro hac vice for appellees Thyra Thomson et al. With him on the brief were A. G. McClintock, Attorney General, and Peter J. Mulvaney, Deputy Attorney General. Richard Barrett filed a brief for appellees James L. Thomson et al.

Suellen L. Davidson, Cheyenne, Wyo., for appellants.

Randall T. Cox, Cheyenne, Wyo., for respondents, pro hac vice, by special leave of Court.

OPINION

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Justice POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

The issue is whether the State of Wyoming violated the Equal Protection Clause by allocating one of the 64 seats in its House of Representatives to a county the population of which is considerably lower than the average population per state representative.

I

Since Wyoming became a State in 1890, its legislature has consisted of a Senate and a House of Representatives. The State's Constitution provides that each of the State's counties "shall constitute a senatorial and representative district" and that "[e]ach county shall have at least one senator and one representative." The senators and representatives are required to be "apportioned among the said counties as nearly as may be according to the number of their inhabitants." Wyo. Const., Art. 3, § 3. 1 The State has had 23 counties since 1922. Because the apportionment of the Wyoming House has been challenged three times in the past 20 years, some background is helpful.

In 1963 voters from the six most populous counties filed suit in the District Court for the District of Wyoming challenging the apportionment of the State's 25 senators and 61 representatives. The three-judge District Court held that the apportionment of the Senate--one senator allocated to each of the State's 23 counties, with the two largest counties having two senators--so far departed from the principle of population equality that it was unconstitutional. Schaefer v. Thomson, 240 F.Supp. 247, 251-252 (Wyo.1964), supplemented,

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251 F.Supp. 450 (1965), aff'd sub nom. Harrison v. Schaefer, 383 U.S. 269, 86 S.Ct. 929, 15 L.Ed.2d 750 (1966). 2 But the court upheld the apportionment of the state House of Representatives. The State's constitutional requirement that each county shall have at least one representative had produced deviations from population equality: the average deviation [103 S.Ct. 2694] from the ideal number of residents per representative was 16%, while the maximum percentage deviation between largest and smallest number of residents per representative was 90%. See 1 App. Exhibits 16. The District Court held that these population disparities were justifiable as "the result of an honest attempt, based on legitimate considerations, to effectuate a rational and practical policy for the house of representatives under conditions as they exist in Wyoming." 240 F.Supp., at 251.

The 1971 reapportionment of the House was similar to that in 1963, with an average deviation of 15% and a maximum deviation of 86%. 1 App. Exhibits 18. Another constitutional challenge was brought in the District Court. The three-judge court again upheld the apportionment of the House, observing that only "five minimal adjustments" had been made since 1963, with three districts gaining a representative and two districts losing a representative because of population shifts. Thompson v. Thomson, 344 F.Supp. 1378, 1380 (Wyo.1972).

The present case is a challenge to Wyoming's 1981 statute reapportioning its House of Representatives in accordance with the requirements of Art. 3, § 3 of the state Constitution. Wyo.Stat. § 28-2-109 (Supp.1982). 3 The 1980 census

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placed Wyoming's population at 469,557. The statute provided for 64 representatives, meaning that the ideal apportionment would be 7,337 persons per representative. Each county was given one representative, including the six counties the population of which fell below 7,337. The deviations from population equality were similar to those in prior decades, with an average deviation of 16% and a maximum deviation of 89%. See 1 App. Exhibits 19-20.

The issue in this case concerns only Niobrara County, the State's least populous county. Its population of 2,924 is less than half of the ideal district of 7,337. Accordingly, the general statutory formula would have dictated that its population for purposes of representation be rounded down to zero. See § 28-2-109(a)(ii). This would have deprived Niobrara County of its own representative for the first time since it became a county in 1913. The state legislature found, however, that "the opportunity for oppression of the people of this state or any of them is greater if any county is deprived a representative in the legislature than if each is guaranteed at least one (1) representative." 4 It therefore followed the

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[103 S.Ct. 2695] state Constitution's requirement and expressly provided that a county would receive a representative even if the statutory formula rounded the county's population to zero. § 28-2-109(a)(iii). Niobrara County thus was given one seat in a 64-seat House. The legislature also provided that if this representation for Niobrara County were held unconstitutional, it would be combined with a...

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