Fortson v. Dorsey

Decision Date18 January 1965
Docket NumberNo. 178,178
Citation379 U.S. 433,85 S.Ct. 498,13 L.Ed.2d 401
PartiesBen W. FORTSON, Jr., Secretary of State of the State of Georgia, Appellant, v. James W. DORSEY et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Paul Rodgers, Atlanta, Ga., for appellant.

Edwin F. Hunt, Atlanta, Ga., for appellees.

Mr. Justice BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Georgia's 1962 Senatorial Reapportionment Act1 apportions the 54 seats of the Georgia Senate among the State's 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 dif- ferent 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, 85 S.Ct. 53. We reverse.

Only last Term, in our opinion in Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533, 84 S.Ct. 1362, 12 L.Ed.2d 506, 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, 84 S.Ct., at 1389. (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, 84 S.Ct., at 1390. (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 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 count-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 practical reali- ties 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 singlemember 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 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 demonstrated it will be time enough to consider whether the system still passes constitutional muster. This question, however, is not presented by the record before us. It is true that appellees asserted in one short paragraph of their brief in this Court that the county-wide election method was resorted to by Georgia in order to minimize the strength of racial and political minorities in the populous urban counties. But appellees never seriously pressed this point below and offered no proof to support it, the District Court did not consider or rule on its merits, and in oral argument here counsel for appellees stressed that they do not rely on this argument. The record thus does not contain any substantiation of the bald assertion in appellees' brief. Since, under these circumstances, this issue has 'not been formulated to bring it into focus, and the evidence has not been offered or appraised to decide it, our holding has no bearing on that wholly separate question.' Wright v. Rockefeller, 376 U.S. 52, 58, 84 S.Ct. 603, 606, 11 L.Ed.2d 512.

Reversed.

Mr. Justice HARLAN, concurring.

Under the compulsion of last Term's reapportionment decisions I join the opinion and judgment of the Court, but with one reservation. There is language in today's opinion, unnecessary to the Court's resolution of this case, that might be taken to mean that the constitutionality of state legislative apportionments must, in the last analysis, always be judged in terms of simple arithmetic.

As this Court embarks on the difficult business of putting flesh on the bones of Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533, 84 S.Ct. 1362, 12 L.Ed.2d 506, and its companion decisions of last June, I desire expressly to reserve for a case which squarely presents the issue, the question of whether the principles announced in those decisions require such a sterile approach to the concept of equal protection in the political field.

Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, dissenting.

Georgia—whose political hierarchy was long constructed on the county-unit * basis—has made an important change. The Georgia Constitution was amended to read:

'The Senate shall consist of 54 members. The General Assembly shall have authority to create, rearrange and change senatorial districts and to provide for the election of Senators from each senatorial district, or from several districts embraced within one county, in such manner as the General Assembly may deem advisable.' (Italics added.) Art. III, § II, part. I.

The 'senatorial district' is thus made the unit in the election of senators. But the Senatorial Reapportionment Act provides in relevant part:

'Each Senator must be a resident of his own senatorial district and shall be elected by the voters of his own district, except that the Senators from those senatorial districts consisting of less than one county shall be elected by all the voters of the county in which such senatorial...

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