Reynolds v. Sims
Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533
Case citation
Case citation is the system used in many countries to identify the decisions in past court cases, either in special series of books called reporters or law reports, or in a 'neutral' form which will identify a decision wherever it was reported...

 (1964) was a United States Supreme Court
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

 case that ruled that state legislature districts had to be roughly equal in population.


Voters from Jefferson County
Jefferson County, Alabama
Jefferson County is the most populous county in the U.S. state of Alabama, with its county seat being located in Birmingham.As of the 2010 U.S. Census, the population of Jefferson County was 658,466...

, Alabama
Alabama is a state located in the southeastern region of the United States. It is bordered by Tennessee to the north, Georgia to the east, Florida and the Gulf of Mexico to the south, and Mississippi to the west. Alabama ranks 30th in total land area and ranks second in the size of its inland...

, had challenged the apportionment of the Alabama Legislature
Alabama Legislature
The Alabama Legislature is the legislative branch of the state government of Alabama. It is a bicameral body composed of the Alabama House of Representatives, with 105 members, and the Alabama Senate, with 35 members...

. The Alabama Constitution
Alabama Constitution
The Constitution of the State of Alabama is the basic governing document of the U.S. state of Alabama. It was adopted in 1901 and is the sixth constitution that the state has had....

 provided that there be at least one representative per county and as many senatorial districts as there were senators. Ratio variances as great as 14 to 1 from one senatorial district to another existed in the Alabama Senate
Alabama Senate
The Alabama State Senate is the upper house of the Alabama Legislature, the state legislature of the U.S. state of Alabama. The body is composed of 35 members representing an equal amount of districts across the state, with each district containing at least 127,140 citizens...

 (i.e., the number of eligible voters voting for one senator was in one case 14 times the number of voters in another).

Having already overturned its ruling that redistricting was a purely political question in Baker v. Carr
Baker v. Carr
Baker v. Carr, , was a landmark United States Supreme Court case that retreated from the Court's political question doctrine, deciding that redistricting issues present justiciable questions, thus enabling federal courts to intervene in and to decide reapportionment cases...

, 369 U.S. 186 (1962), the Court went further in order to correct what seemed to it to be egregious examples of malapportionment which were serious enough to undermine the premises underlying republic
A republic is a form of government in which the people, or some significant portion of them, have supreme control over the government and where offices of state are elected or chosen by elected people. In modern times, a common simplified definition of a republic is a government where the head of...

an government. Before Reynolds, urban counties were often drastically underrepresented.

Among the more extreme pre-Reynolds disparities (compiled by Congressman Morris K. Udall):
  • In the Connecticut General Assembly
    Connecticut General Assembly
    The Connecticut General Assembly is the state legislature of the U.S. state of Connecticut. It is a bicameral body composed of the 151-member House of Representatives and the 36-member Senate. It meets in the state capital, Hartford. There are no term limits for either chamber.During...

    , one House
    Connecticut House of Representatives
    The Connecticut House of Representatives is the lower house in the Connecticut General Assembly, the state legislature of the U.S. state of Connecticut. The house is composed of 151 members representing an equal number of districts, with each constituency containing nearly 22,600 residents...

     district had 191 people; another, 81,000 (424 times more).
  • In the New Hampshire General Court
    New Hampshire General Court
    The General Court of New Hampshire is the bicameral state legislature of the U.S. state of New Hampshire. The lower house is the New Hampshire House of Representatives with 400 members. The upper house is the New Hampshire Senate with 24 members...

    , one township with three people had a Representative in the lower house
    Lower house
    A lower house is one of two chambers of a bicameral legislature, the other chamber being the upper house.Despite its official position "below" the upper house, in many legislatures worldwide the lower house has come to wield more power...

    ; this was the same representation given another district with a population of 3,244. The vote of a resident of the first township was therefore 1,081 times more powerful at the Capitol.
  • In the Utah State Legislature
    Utah State Legislature
    The Utah State Legislature is the state legislature of the U.S. state of Utah. It is a bicameral body, comprising the Utah House of Representatives, with 75 Representatives, and the Utah Senate, with 29 State Senators...

    , the smallest district had 165 people, the largest 32,380 (196 times the population of the other).
  • In the Vermont General Assembly
    Vermont General Assembly
    The Vermont General Assembly is the legislative body of the U.S. state of Vermont. The Legislature is formally known as the "General Assembly," but the style of "Legislature" is commonly used, including by the body itself...

    , the smallest district had 36 people, the largest 35,000, a ratio of almost 1,000 to 1.
  • Los Angeles County, California
    Los Angeles County, California
    Los Angeles County is a county in the U.S. state of California. As of 2010 U.S. Census, the county had a population of 9,818,605, making it the most populous county in the United States. Los Angeles County alone is more populous than 42 individual U.S. states...

    , with 6 million people, had one member in the California State Senate
    California State Senate
    The California State Senate is the upper house of the California State Legislature. There are 40 state senators. The state legislature meets in the California State Capitol in Sacramento. The Lieutenant Governor is the ex officio President of the Senate and may break a tied vote...

    , as did the 14,000 people of one rural county (428 times more).
  • In the Idaho Legislature
    Idaho Legislature
    The Idaho Legislature is the state legislature of the U.S. state of Idaho. It consists of the upper Idaho Senate and the lower Idaho House of Representatives. The Idaho Senate contains 35 Senators, who are elected from 35 districts...

    , the smallest Senate
    Idaho Senate
    The Idaho Senate is the upper chamber of the Idaho State Legislature. It consists of 35 Senators elected to two-year terms, each representing a district of the state. The Senate meets at the Idaho State Capitol in Boise, Idaho.-Composition of the Senate:...

     district had 951 people; the largest, 93,400 (97 times more).
  • In the Nevada Senate
    Nevada Senate
    The Nevada Senate is the upper house of the Nevada Legislature, the state legislature of U.S. state of Nevada. The Senate consists of 21 members from 19 districts, two of which are multimember. Each senator represented approximately 94,700 people as of the 2000 census, although 2006 Census Bureau...

    , 17 members represented as many as 127,000 or as few as 568 people, a ratio of 224 to 1.


The eight justices who struck down state senate inequality based their decision on the principle of "one person, one vote". In his majority decision, Chief Justice
Chief Justice of the United States
The Chief Justice of the United States is the head of the United States federal court system and the chief judge of the Supreme Court of the United States. The Chief Justice is one of nine Supreme Court justices; the other eight are the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States...

 Earl Warren
Earl Warren
Earl Warren was the 14th Chief Justice of the United States.He is known for the sweeping decisions of the Warren Court, which ended school segregation and transformed many areas of American law, especially regarding the rights of the accused, ending public-school-sponsored prayer, and requiring...

 said "Legislators represent people, not trees or acres. Legislators are elected by voters, not farms or cities or economic interests."

Justice Potter Stewart
Potter Stewart
Potter Stewart was an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. During his tenure, he made, among other areas, major contributions to criminal justice reform, civil rights, access to the courts, and Fourth Amendment jurisprudence.-Education:Stewart was born in Jackson, Michigan,...

 issued a concurrence/dissent, in which he argued that while many of the schemes of representation before the court in the case were egregiously undemocratic and clearly violative of equal protection, it was not for the Court to provide any guideline beyond general reasonableness for apportionment of districts. Stewart voted against the majority in the Colorado and New York cases; although Justice Tom C. Clark
Tom C. Clark
Thomas Campbell Clark was United States Attorney General from 1945 to 1949 and an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States .- Early life and career :...

 joined his concurrence/dissent, Clark did not join Stewart in voting differently in the Colorado and New York cases.

In dissent, Justice John Marshall Harlan II
John Marshall Harlan II
John Marshall Harlan was an American jurist who served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court from 1955 to 1971. His namesake was his grandfather John Marshall Harlan, another associate justice who served from 1877 to 1911.Harlan was a student at Upper Canada College and Appleby College and...

 lambasted the Court for ignoring the original intention
In the context of United States constitutional interpretation, originalism is a principle of interpretation that tries to discover the original meaning or intent of the constitution. It is based on the principle that the judiciary is not supposed to create, amend or repeal laws but only to uphold...

 of the Equal Protection Clause
Equal Protection Clause
The Equal Protection Clause, part of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, provides that "no state shall ... deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws"...

, which he argued did not extend to voting rights. Harlan claimed the Court was imposing its own idea of "good government" on the states, stifling creativity and violating federalism
Federalism is a political concept in which a group of members are bound together by covenant with a governing representative head. The term "federalism" is also used to describe a system of the government in which sovereignty is constitutionally divided between a central governing authority and...

. Although the Constitution explicitly grants two senators per state, regardless of population, Harlan further claimed that if Reynolds was correct, then the United States Constitution's own provision for two United States Senators from each state would then be Constitutionally suspect as the fifty states have anything but "substantially equal populations." "One person, one vote" was extended to Congressional (but not Senatorial) districts in 1964's Wesberry v. Sanders
Wesberry v. Sanders
Wesberry v. Sanders, 376 U.S. 1 was a U.S. Supreme Court case involving U.S. Congressional districts in the state of Georgia. The Court issued its ruling on February 17, 1964. This decision requires each state to draw its U.S...



Reynolds v. Sims set off a legislative firestorm in the country. Senator Everett Dirksen
Everett Dirksen
Everett McKinley Dirksen was an American politician of the Republican Party. He represented Illinois in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate...

 of Illinois
Illinois is the fifth-most populous state of the United States of America, and is often noted for being a microcosm of the entire country. With Chicago in the northeast, small industrial cities and great agricultural productivity in central and northern Illinois, and natural resources like coal,...

 led a fight to pass a Constitutional amendment
Constitutional amendment
A constitutional amendment is a formal change to the text of the written constitution of a nation or state.Most constitutions require that amendments cannot be enacted unless they have passed a special procedure that is more stringent than that required of ordinary legislation...

 allowing unequal legislative districts. He warned that
"...the forces of our national life are not brought to bear on public questions solely in proportion to the weight of numbers. If they were, the 6 million citizens of the Chicago area would hold sway in the Illinois Legislature without consideration of the problems of their 4 million fellows who are scattered in 100 other counties. Under the Court's new decree, California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

 could be dominated by Los Angeles and San Francisco; Michigan
Michigan is a U.S. state located in the Great Lakes Region of the United States of America. The name Michigan is the French form of the Ojibwa word mishigamaa, meaning "large water" or "large lake"....

 by Detroit.."

Dirksen was ultimately unsuccessful.

See also

  • Rotten borough
    Rotten borough
    A "rotten", "decayed" or pocket borough was a parliamentary borough or constituency in the United Kingdom that had a very small electorate and could be used by a patron to gain undue and unrepresentative influence within Parliament....

    , an English phenomenon
  • The Shaff plan
    Shaff Plan
    The Shaff Plan was a proposed amendment to the Iowa Constitution, proposed by David Shaff. The amendment would have called for the Iowa Senate to be apportioned by population, and the Iowa House of Representatives to be apportioned by area. In December 1963, in a public referendum, the amendment...

  • List of United States Supreme Court cases, volume 377

External links

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