Abate v. Mundt, No. 71

CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtMARSHALL
Citation403 U.S. 182,29 L.Ed.2d 399,91 S.Ct. 1904
Docket NumberNo. 71
Decision Date07 June 1971
PartiesSamuel J. ABATE, etc., et al., Petitioners, v. Paul F. MUNDT et al

403 U.S. 182
91 S.Ct. 1904
29 L.Ed.2d 399
Samuel J. ABATE, etc., et al., Petitioners,

v.

Paul F. MUNDT et al.

No. 71.
Argued Nov. 19, 1970.
Decided June 7, 1971.

Syllabus

For more than a century the Rockland County board of supervisors consisted of the supervisors of the county's five towns, resulting in extensive functional interrelationships and intergovernmental coordination between county and towns. Severe malapportionment due to population growth led to courtordered reapportionment. The proposed plan, challenged by petitioners, provides for a county legislature of 18 members chosen from five districts, corresponding with the towns, each district being assigned legislators in the proportion of its population to that of the smallest town. The plan produces a total deviation from equality of 11.9%. The Court of Appeals of New York upheld the plan. Held: In light of the long tradition of overlapping functions and dual personnel in the Rockland County government and the fact that the plan does not contain any built-in bias favoring particular political interests or geographic areas, the plan is not violative of the Equal Protection Clause. Pp. 185—187.

25 N.Y.2d 309, 305 N.Y.S.2d 465, 253 N.E.2d 189, affirmed.

Frank P. Barone, Suffern, N.Y., for petitioner Samuel J. Abate.

Doris F. Ulman, Spring Valley, N.Y., for petitioners June Molof and others.

Paul H. Rivet, New City, N.Y., for petitioners Cornelius T. O'Sullivan and others.

J. Martin Cornell, New City, N.Y., for respondents.

Page 183

Mr. Justice MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this case, petitioners challenge the constitutionality of a reapportionment plan proposed in response to both federal and state court findings of malapportionment in Rockland County, New York. The Court of Appeals of the State of New York upheld the plan. We affirm.

For more than 100 years, Rockland County was governed by a board of supervisors consisting of the supervisors of each of the county's five constituent towns. This county legislature was not separately elected; rather, its members held their county offices by virtue of their election as town supervisors—a pattern that typified New York county government. The result has been a local structure in which overlapping public services are provided by the towns and their county working in close cooperation. For example, in Rockland County the towns adopt their own budgets and submit them to the county which levies taxes. These taxes are based on real property assessments established by the towns but equalized by the county board. Similarly, public services such as waste disposal and snow removal are provided through cooperative efforts among the municipalities. There is no indication that these joint efforts have declined in importance; in fact, respondents strenuously urge that the county's rapidly expanding population has amplified the need for town and county coordination in the future.

The county's increased population also produced severe malapportionment—so severe that, in 1966, a federal district court required that the county board submit a reapportionment plan to the Rockland County voters, Lodico v. Board of Supervisors, 256 F.Supp. 440 (SDNY). Pursuant to that order, three different plans were devised and submitted to the electorate; but each was rejected at the polls. The present action was brought in 1968 to compel the board to reapportion. After its

Page 184

initial proposal was rejected by the New York courts, the board submitted the plan that is the subject of this decision.

The challenged plan, based on 1969 population figures provides for a county legislature composed of 18 members chosen from five legislative districts. These districts exactly correspond to the county's five constituent towns. Each district is assigned its legislators according to the district's population in relation to the population of the smallest town, Stony Point. Stony Point has a population of 12,114 and is assigned one representative in the county legislature. The number of representatives granted the other districts is determined by dividing the population of each by the population of the smallest town. Fractional results of the computation are rounded to the nearest integer, and this need to round off 'fractional representatives' produces some variations among districts in terms of population per legislator. Under 1969 population figures, the Orangetown district is the most 'underrepresented' (7.1%); while Clarkstown is the most 'overrepresented' (4.8%). Thus, the plan presently produces a total deviation from population equality of 11.9%.1 Petitioners attack these deviations as unconstitutional.2

Page 185

It is well established that electoral apportionment must be based on the general principle of population equality and that this principle applies to state and local elections, Avery v. Midland County, 390 U.S. 474, 481, 88 S.Ct. 1114, 1118, 20 L.Ed.2d 45 (1968). 'Mathematical exactness or precision is hardly a workable constitutional requirement,' Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533, 577, 84 S.Ct. 1362, 1389, 1390, 12 L.Ed.2d 506 (1964), but deviations from population equality must be justified by legitimate state considerations, Swann v. Adams, 385 U.S. 440, 444, 87 S.Ct. 569, 572, 17 L.Ed.2d 501 (1967). Because voting rights require highly sensitive safeguards, this Court has carefully scrutinized state interests offered to justify deviations from population equality.

In assessing the constitutionality of various apportionment plans, we have observed that viable local governments may need considerable flexibility in municipal arrangements if they are to meet changing societal needs, Sailors v. Board of Education of Kent County, 387 U.S. 105, 110—111, 87 S.Ct. 1549, 1553—1554, 18 L.Ed.2d 650 (1967), and that a desire to preserve the...

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190 practice notes
  • Egan v. Hammond, No. 1711
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Alaska (US)
    • July 21, 1972
    ...385 U.S. 440, 87 S.Ct. 569, 17 L.Ed.2d 501 (1967) (variations from +15.09 to -10.56 percent held unconstitutional). Cf. Abate v. Mundt, 403 U.S. 182, 91 S.Ct. 1904, 29 L.Ed.2d 399 (1971) (variations from -4.8 to -7.1 percent 26 With the single exception of the Ketchikan district, the range ......
  • Brown v. Moore, Civ. A. No. 75-298-P.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Southern District of Alabama
    • December 13, 1976
    ...blacks to develop. V. There is a traditional constitutional tolerance of various forms of local government. See, e. g., Abate v. Mundt, 403 U.S. 182, 185, 91 S.Ct. 1904, 29 L.Ed.2d 399 The court recognizes the "delicate issues of federal-state relations underlying this case." Mayor of the C......
  • Garza v. County of Los Angeles, Nos. 90-55944
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • January 7, 1991
    ...(1973). Deviations somewhat above 10% may be acceptable if justified by compelling and legitimate interests. See, e.g., Abate v. Mundt, 403 U.S. 182, 184-85, 91 S.Ct. 1904, 1905-06, 29 L.Ed.2d 399 (1971). And, the Court has stated quite clearly that deviations above this buffer range will n......
  • Seergy v. Kings County Republican County Committee, No. 733-735
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • April 20, 1972
    ...precision, but that any "deviations from population equality must be justified by legitimate state considerations." Abate v. Mundt, 403 U.S. 182, 185, 91 S.Ct. 1904, 1906, 29 L.Ed.2d 399 (1971); Swann v. Adams, 385 U.S. 440, 444, 87 S.Ct. 569, 7 L.Ed.2d 501 (1967). There can be no doubt tha......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
189 cases
  • Egan v. Hammond, No. 1711
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Alaska (US)
    • July 21, 1972
    ...385 U.S. 440, 87 S.Ct. 569, 17 L.Ed.2d 501 (1967) (variations from +15.09 to -10.56 percent held unconstitutional). Cf. Abate v. Mundt, 403 U.S. 182, 91 S.Ct. 1904, 29 L.Ed.2d 399 (1971) (variations from -4.8 to -7.1 percent 26 With the single exception of the Ketchikan district, the range ......
  • Brown v. Moore, Civ. A. No. 75-298-P.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Southern District of Alabama
    • December 13, 1976
    ...blacks to develop. V. There is a traditional constitutional tolerance of various forms of local government. See, e. g., Abate v. Mundt, 403 U.S. 182, 185, 91 S.Ct. 1904, 29 L.Ed.2d 399 The court recognizes the "delicate issues of federal-state relations underlying this case." Mayor of the C......
  • Garza v. County of Los Angeles, Nos. 90-55944
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • January 7, 1991
    ...(1973). Deviations somewhat above 10% may be acceptable if justified by compelling and legitimate interests. See, e.g., Abate v. Mundt, 403 U.S. 182, 184-85, 91 S.Ct. 1904, 1905-06, 29 L.Ed.2d 399 (1971). And, the Court has stated quite clearly that deviations above this buffer range will n......
  • Seergy v. Kings County Republican County Committee, No. 733-735
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • April 20, 1972
    ...precision, but that any "deviations from population equality must be justified by legitimate state considerations." Abate v. Mundt, 403 U.S. 182, 185, 91 S.Ct. 1904, 1906, 29 L.Ed.2d 399 (1971); Swann v. Adams, 385 U.S. 440, 444, 87 S.Ct. 569, 7 L.Ed.2d 501 (1967). There can be no doubt tha......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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