Fortson v. Dorsey

LOCATION: Criminal District Court, Parish of New Orleans

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962-1965)

CITATION: 379 US 433 (1965)
ARGUED: Dec 10, 1964
DECIDED: Jan 18, 1965

Facts of the case


Media for Fortson v. Dorsey

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 10, 1964 in Fortson v. Dorsey

Earl Warren:

Number 178, Ben W. Fortson Jr., Secretary of State of Georgia, appellant, versus James W. Dorsey et al. Mr. Rodgers.

Paul Rodgers:

Mr. Chief Justice.

Earl Warren:

Mr. Rodgers.

Paul Rodgers:

May it please the Court.

Now this question right here, this case concerns a question involving a small provision of the Georgia Senatorial Reapportionment Act.

The provision provides that 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 district is located.

So the effect of that is, is that the Senatorial Reapportionment Act divided Georgia into 54 senatorial districts.

That meant and this division was done according to population, that meant that seven of Georgia’s most populous counties were awarded 21 senators and the districts within those counties were carved out according to populations.

However, under this provision here, with the exception of this provision which the District Court invalidated, those 21 senators had to run county at large.

They had to be residents of their districts within the county, but they had to run county at large.

Now the plaintiffs sued to require these senators to run only within their districts in the seven most populous counties.

The District Court determined in effect that the combination of multi member and single member districts in the same legislative house was per se unconstitutional.

Now this decision came down prior to this Court's decision in the Reynolds versus Sims and then in the Lucas case, which was the Colorado Apportionment case.

As the Court well knows there's language in there which indicates that the combination of multi and single member districts is not per se unconstitutional, but that is all the record contained in the lower court is just the fact this method of election and that was the finding of the District Court.

Now --

Arthur J. Goldberg:


Paul Rodgers:

Well, the reason for it is, it is historically in Georgia.

In fact, I don't know if any exception of this rule, but Georgia has always had its legislative members represent at least a county, an area at least as large as a county.

In other words, Georgia has always pursued the county unitary approach.

Now we don't mean by that, we're not trying to say that a county is analogous to a State or anything like that.

All we say is, is that county government itself just by virtue of its mere operation over a period of years works a certain solidarity into the county constituency, which Georgia believes, and many other states believe too apparently, is worthy of reflection in the general assembly.

Now back before Baker versus Carr, one of the old systems of apportionment, the House of Representatives was -- there were various representatives assigned to each county.

The more populous county had three, the less populous two or more.

Well, of course that wouldn't stand up according to the voting point of population.

The Georgia Senate, the old Georgia Senate, each district was composed of three counties, with the exception of Fulton.

So it's been traditionally, historically in Georgia to rely upon the county as a basic unit of representation.

Arthur J. Goldberg:

Now the representation (Inaudible)

Paul Rodgers:

That's right.

Now the purpose in your seven most populous counties of having districting is to ensure a disperse of Senators throughout the county.

If you didn't district those more populous counties, then conceivably all the senators could come from one part of the county.