Reynolds v. Sims

LOCATION: Alabama State Capitol

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962-1965)

CITATION: 377 US 533 (1964)
ARGUED: Nov 13, 1963
DECIDED: Jun 15, 1964

Facts of the case

In 1961, M.O. Sims, David J. Vann (Vann v. Baggett), John McConnell (McConnell v. Baggett), and other voters from Jefferson County, Alabama, challenged the apportionment of the state legislature. The Alabama Constitution prescribed that each county was entitled to at least one representative and that there were to be as many senatorial districts as there were senators. Population variance ratios of as great as 41-to-1 existed in the Senate.


Did Alabama's apportionment scheme violate the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause by mandating at least one representative per county and creating as many senatorial districts as there were senators, regardless of population variances?

Media for Reynolds v. Sims

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 13, 1963 (Part 1) in Reynolds v. Sims

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 13, 1963 (Part 2) in Reynolds v. Sims

David J. Vann:

As I was saying before, the lunch hour, our purpose in being in this appeal is because we feel that additional relief in this case is necessary now.

Potter Stewart:

Just a -- just before we recessed to the lunch, you said that you were made various efforts of -- in the Legislature of Alabama?

David J. Vann:

That is correct.

Potter Stewart:

And I think the last thing you said was that you urged the Governor to veto the -- what do you call the Crawford bill and to amend -- to amend the Legislature, what does that mean?

David J. Vann:

Well we have, one of the Alabama Constitution, a procedure of executive amendment.

The executive can veto a bill and propose an amendment to the bill which if accepted by the legislature would avoid his veto.

And we asked the Governor to amend the Crawford-Webb Bill to provide for proper reapportionment and submit it back to the legislature with an executive amendment, the Governor refused to do so.

Potter Stewart:

So this provision means in effect that the Governor has a substantial amount of potential legislative power, is that correct?

David J. Vann:

Yes, but the Governor's veto in Alabama can be overwritten by a simple majority, so it's not as effective a veto as you have in some other States and in federal veto.

Potter Stewart:

But it's a -- it's a -- it's a talking veto, speaking veto.

David J. Vann:

A talking veto.

And the -- when you have a position, as we were in Justice Stewart, where in the State Senate, with 20% of the people, we only had -- we had less than 3% of the representation.

We couldn't -- we -- although we were in near majority status with others counties affected, we couldn't even effectively use those legislative devices used to protect minorities.

We don't have enough power to even use minority protection in the State Senate (Inaudible), for example the filibuster.

Potter Stewart:

You mean a negative kind of protection (Voice Overlap).

David J. Vann:

That's right, I say the -- let's say the majority doesn't even -- can't -- doesn't -- it can't even effectively utilize normal minority protection.

Arthur J. Goldberg:

Then (Inaudible)

David J. Vann:

In our judgment, no.

And that is one of the -- I pointed.

That I would like to cover in a very short time that I have.

One, I like to say why, why we feel additional relief is needed and we have asked in effect for alternatively for a direction to the District Court to -- to provide at least substantially population reinforcement in the State Senate or we've asked for a declaration from the Court, the declaration -- well either remediate, we think might result in a legislative result before the District Court could handle it, it would give the District Court another opportunity if the legislature, again, failed to act.

Now, we have this situation, the Senate has provided for in the -- in the order below.

It does not even eliminate the most egregious discrimination in the -- in the Senate.

In other words, the -- the fact that our county with 20% of the people has only one Senator means that we have one-seventh of the voice, that our population would entitle us to in the State Senate.

The senate district of Bibb and Perry has 20 times the voice of my county, Mobile County which Mr. McConnell comes here, only has a third of the voice to this population would entitle to it, and Bibb and Perry County have ten times the voice of Mobile.

Now, this produces a very serious problem and it has very mediate and very practical results.

A member of a legislature is more than a person to vote.

A member of the State Senate along his own committees, he's Chairman of Committees.

He has powers beyond his vote in the channeling of legislation.

The existence of representation affects your areas' relationship with the State Executive.