Gordon v. Lance

PETITIONER: Gordon
RESPONDENT: Lance
LOCATION: Eastern District Court of Pennsylvania

DOCKET NO.: 96
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1970-1971)
LOWER COURT:

CITATION: 403 US 1 (1971)
ARGUED: Jan 18, 1971
DECIDED: Jun 07, 1971

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Gordon v. Lance

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 18, 1971 in Gordon v. Lance

Warren E. Burger:

Gordon against Lance.

Mr. Scott you may precede whenever you're ready.

George M. Scott:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

I like first to apologize for my voice, I've had laryngitis the last few days, I hope the court will indulge me.

Warren E. Burger:

Very well Mr. counsel.

George M. Scott:

This case is unique I think in the annals of jurisprudence.

The question presented has never before been presented to this Court.

The question, does equal protection of the laws under Fourteenth Amendment mean majority rule in special elections to determine questions of public policy?

Put it in another way, does the 60% requirement, the extraordinary majority requirement of the constitution and enabling statutes of the state of West Virginia violate the Fourteenth Amendment of the Federal Constitution?

The facts in the case are not in dispute, they're simple and they're brief.

In my home county, Roane County in West Virginia on April 1968, the Board of Education submitted to the people for decision, two issues.

The first question was whether or not to issue of a $1,800,000.00 in general obligation bond.

Second issue is whether or not to increase the rate of taxation for current expenditures beyond the constitutionally prescribed maximum for a period of five years.

On each of these issues, approximately 51.51% of the persons voting, voted in the affirmative and of course the issues failed the passage to canvas by the Board of Education because of the requisite 60% of the voters did not approve the issue.

Constitution of the state of West Virginia was adopted in 1872.

At that time the 60% requirement so far as bond indebtedness or any indebtedness extending beyond the current fiscal year was part of the constitution.

In 1932, the Tax Limitation Amendment was adopted which set forth maximum tax rates for each political subdivision and this limitation amendment provide that these rates could not be exceeded except by vote of the people and 60% voting in the affirmative.

In 1966, an amendment was presented to the people of West Virginia and the only question in that amendment was whether or not to amend and cancel the 60% requirement and substitute a simple majority requirement and the people voted by a majority to retain the 60% rule.

Despite this background -- in light of this background, the Supreme Court of Appeals of the State of West Virginia decided at the instance of five citizens of our county, allegedly voted in the affirmative on each of these issues, that the 60% requirement, the extraordinary majority requirement was inherently discriminatory in that it diluted or debased the vote of the persons who voted yes as compared to the vote of the persons who voted no.

These issues --

Warren E. Burger:

Can the constitution of West Virginia be changed by a simple majority vote?

George M. Scott:

Yes, Mr. Chief Justice when it's submitted.

It's submitted at the instance of the two-thirds vote of each house of the legislature, but on the vote of the people, it is a majority vote when submitted to the electorate at large.

Warren E. Burger:

Does this record by any chance show what the vote in fact was?

George M. Scott:

I am not certain Your Honor, I think the dissent of Judge Haymond does show that.

Potter Stewart:

That is back in 1962, you mean when the amendment --

George M. Scott:

1966, Your Honor.

Potter Stewart:

1966, when the amendment was submitted?

George M. Scott:

Yes.

Potter Stewart:

And this involves both the bond issue and a tax levy as I understand it?