Brief Fact Summary.
The malapportionment of the Alabama legislature, which discriminated against voters in counties whose populations had grown proportionately far more than others, was challenged.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
Equal protection requires that a State make an honest and good faith effort to construct districts as nearly of equal population as is practicable.
Developing a body of doctrine on a case-by-case basis appears to us to provide the most satisfactory means of arriving at detailed constitutional requirements in the area of state legislative apportionment.View Full Point of Law
The malapportionment of the Alabama legislature was challenged. The challengers claimed that the existing distributing scheme, based on the 1900 census, discriminated against voters in counties whose populations had grown proportionately far more than others since the 1900 census. The lower court found that the apportionment devised by Alabama legislature violated equal protection.
Does the malapportionment of the Alabama legislature violate the equal protection?
Yes, equal protection guarantees the opportunity for equal participation by all voters in the election of state legislators. Diluting the weight of votes because of place of residence impairs basic constitutional rights under the 14th Amendment just as much as invidious discrimination based upon factors such as race or economic status. Our constitutional system amply offers the protection of minorities by means other than giving them majority control of state legislatures.
Justice Harlan and Stewart
Harlan: The history of the adoption of the 14th Amendment provides strong evidence that the Framers did not believe that equal protection limited the power of the States to apportion their legislatures as they saw fit.
Stewart: Representative government is a process of accommodating group interests through democratic institutional arrangements. Appropriate legislative apportionment should be designed to insure effective representation in the State’s legislature of various groups and interests making up the electorate. Population factors must sometime be subordinated in devising a legislative apportionment plan which is to achieve the important goal of ensuring a fair, effective, and balanced representation of the social and economic interests within a State.
The fact that an apportionment plan is adopted in a popular referendum is insufficient to sustain its constitutionality or to induce a court of equity to refuse to act. Because an individual’s constitutional rights can hardly be infringed simply because a majority of the people choose that it be, the fact that a challenged legislative apportionment plan was approved by the electorate is without federal constitutional significance.