Brown v. Thomson

LOCATION: Bleckly County Superior Court

DOCKET NO.: 82-65
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)

CITATION: 462 US 835 (1983)
ARGUED: Mar 21, 1983
DECIDED: Jun 22, 1983

Randall T. Cox - on behalf of the Appellees
Suellen L. Davidson - on behalf of the Appellant

Facts of the case

In apportioning its state legislative seats, the State of Wyoming made provisions to allocate to each county at least one state representative. With the state's total population and its sixty-four House seats, the ideal apportionment would have been 7,337 persons per representative. Given the guarantee of county representation, Niobrara County, with a population of less than half the ideal (2,924), was allocated a House seat.


Did the State of Wyoming violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by allocating one of its state House seats to a county with a population considerably lower than the average population per state representative?

Media for Brown v. Thomson

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 21, 1983 in Brown v. Thomson

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments first this morning in Brown against Thomson, Secretary of State of the State of Wyoming.

Ms. Davidson, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Suellen L. Davidson:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

A simple straightforward issue is being presented today for your review.

The issue is whether a county may constitutionally receive a representative to its state house of representatives based merely upon its status as a county and without regard to its population.

In addition to other legal considerations which will be presented in argument, it is important that the Court have the benefit of a brief factual overview.

When faced with the decennial task of reapportioning its legislative membership in 1981, the Wyoming State Legislature determined that the population of the state of Wyoming had grown by 3... pardon me... 137,141 persons, or in other words by 24 percent.

Each of the state's 23 counties had experienced a population growth but one, Niobrara County.

Instead the population of that county had stabilized during the ten year period, from 1970 to 1980, at 2,924 persons.

As introduced in the house, the 1981 Reapportionment Act provided for a membership of 63 members in the house of representatives.

A statutory ratio formula based upon population considerations was used to determine which counties would receive representatives.


William H. Rehnquist:

Ms. Davidson, is this material which you are speaking of now in the record somewhere, or in the opinion of the District Court?

Suellen L. Davidson:

--Yes, Mr. Justice, most of this material is in the record.

Based upon the statutory ratio formula each of the state's 23 counties, again with the exception of one, Niobrara County, would receive at least one representative.

The 1981 Reapportionment Act then passed the house of representatives providing that the house membership would continue to be comprised of 63 members, but Niobrara County would be combined with its neighboring county of Goshen.

The senate, however, changed the 1981 Reapportionment Act and instead provided that the house membership should be increased to 64.

The additional representative would be awarded to Niobrara County.

The Act then was committed to the conference committee where it soon became very apparent that the committee would be deadlocked and remain deadlocked unless a compromise was effected.

Such a compromise was struck.

The compromise was that Niobrara County would receive the 64th member.

But at the same time too, if any court determined that the gratuitous grant of a representative to Niobrara County was unconstitutional, then Niobrara would be combined with Goshen County.

There must have been a strong realization in the Wyoming State Legislature that there would be a strong possibility, a probability, that the provision would be struck.

In 1964, a three-judge panel, in the case of Schaefer versus Thomson, had already determined that Article 3, Section 3, of the Wyoming State Constitution was not to be applied in future instances involving apportionment of the Senate, for the article provided that each county would constitute a senatorial district.

And each county would, therefore, receive a senator.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Ms. Davidson, did you attack the apportionment scheme as a whole, or just as it applied to the one county?

Suellen L. Davidson:

Mr. Justice, we attacked it just as to the one county.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Why not the whole plan?

Suellen L. Davidson:

Although there was an awareness that the whole plan was probably unconstitutional, we received a directive from our clients to attack only that portion of the reapportionment act which gave Niobrara County a representative, because it was a feeling that any consideration other than population was wrong and clearly an award had been made to this county based upon its status as a political subdivision.

Harry A. Blackmun:

You don't think you've weakened your case by this tactic?