Wesberry v. Sanders

Facts of the Case

Plaintiffs James P. Wesberry, Jr., and Candler Crim, Jr., who were qualified voters in the State of Georgia, resided in a certain congressional district with a population that was two to three times greater than that of other congressional districts in the State. Plaintiffs filed a class action lawsuit in federal district court asserting that because there was only one congressman for each district, their vote was debased as a result of the state’s apportionment statute and the state’s failure to realign the congressional districts. They also sought to invalidate the apportionment statute and enjoin defendants S. Ernest Vandiver, the Governor of the State of Georgia, and Ben W. Fortson, Jr., the Secretary of the State of Georgia, from conducting elections under the statute. The district court dismissed the complaint for non-justiciability and want of equity because it raised a political question. Plaintiffs appealed.

Question

Did Georgia’s congressional districts violate the Fourteenth Amendment or deprive citizens of the full benefit of their right to vote?

CONCLUSION

Congressional districts must have roughly equal populations if this is feasible.In an opinion authored by Hugo L. Black, the 6-3 majority held that the district court had jurisdiction because debasement of the right to vote as a result of a state congressional apportionment law was justiciable and not subject to dismissal for want of equity. The Court further held that the apportionment statute was invalid because it abridged the requirement of Article 1, section 2 of the Constitution that The House of Representatives shall be composed of members chosen every second year by the people of the several states, and the electors in each state shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the state legislature.Justice Clark concurred in part and dissented in part. He agreed with the majority that the trial court erred in dismissing the case for nonjusticiability and want of equity, but stated further that Article 1, section 2, does not forbid disproportionate congressional districts and that the case should be remanded for a hearing to determine whether the apportionment statute violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.Justice Harlan dissented on the ground that the Constitution expressly provides that state legislatures and Congress have exclusive jurisdiction over problems of congressional apportionment of the type involved in the case.Justice Stewart stated that he joined with Mr. Justice Harlan’s dissent except insofar as there might be implied in that dissent the view that the issues were not justiciable.

Case Information

  • Citation: 376 US 1 (1964)
  • Argued: Nov 18 – 19, 1963
  • Decided Feb 17, 1964