Wesberry v. Sanders

LOCATION: Georgia General Assembly

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962-1965)

CITATION: 376 US 1 (1964)
ARGUED: Nov 18, 1963 / Nov 19, 1963
DECIDED: Feb 17, 1964

Facts of the case

Wesberry brought a suit claiming for breach of the voting rights occurred in the in District 5th of Georgia that had in 2-3 times more citizens than others, however, its representational division in Congress was maintained the same as in these other.

The appellant averred that it required the legislative changing to adhere the uniformity of suffrage and the appropriate proportion of voters and its representatives before the start of the new elections. The purpose was to uphold the law that would uphold the corresponding value of suffrage right of each entity that would be defined by a percentage of its inhabitants.

The State Court refused the claim, but the plaintiff filed an appeal to the Supreme Court.

The case study proves that the Court cited on the rulings in Gray v. Sanders (1963) that stated the obligation to determine more or less the same number of voters in each district for the election to government.

The judicial opinion confirmed the infringement of the equality of voting process under the USA Constitution in the 5th District by the State Georgia. Based on the principle of Article 1 reflected in Section 2 one person`s vote should have the equal value as any other. Therefore Georgia`s voting and representation Congress procedures contradicted with these legible requirements.

The case brief underlined the significance of this decision that obligates the States to adhere the constitutional requirement that each person should have the equal suffrage and its appropriate influence for political representation. This decision defined the legal ground for future related cases like Reynolds v. Sims (1964). Moreover, this ruling created the base for the equitable electoral principle, which has an important significance in a democratic state.


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

Media for Wesberry v. Sanders

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 19, 1963 in Wesberry v. Sanders

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 18, 1963 in Wesberry v. Sanders

Earl Warren:

James Wesberry, Jr., et al., Appellants, versus Carl E. Sanders, et al.

Mr. Bondurant.

Emmet J. Bondurant, II:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

Earl Warren:

Go ahead.

Emmet J. Bondurant, II:

Before proceeding into our case, I would like to respectfully move the Court to permit my associate, Mr. Frank T. Cash to appear pro hac vice for purposes of this case and this case alone.

Earl Warren:

Your motion is granted.

Emmet J. Bondurant, II:

Thank you, sir.

This case, unlike the cases previously before the Court during the preceding week, presents not questions involving legislative apportionments of the States but questions involving profound issues affecting the structure of our National Government for it involves the structure of the House of Representatives.

It was the House of Representatives which was to be in the words of George Mason, the grand depository of democratic principle.

Indeed, here lies the principle upon which all Republican Government is founded for by assuring equality of political participation to its citizens.

The Government secured not only the strength of popular support but it assured to each of its citizens the attentive consideration of his rights by those in power to the end the Government would be responsive to the will of the people.

Yet, this basic principle upon which an important branch of our Federal -- Federal Government is founded has been undermined by the repeated failure of the States to properly apportion their congressional districts.

This case presents in bold relief the very clear question of whether a State may deprive its citizens of more than half their representation in the House of Representatives by their failure to properly apportion congressional districts long after massive shifts and population have deprived these districts of their representativeness.

This case, Your Honors, was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia by two residents of Fulton County, Georgia for practical purposes, Atlanta, who are qualified to vote for representatives in Congress from the Fifth Congressional District of Georgia.

In 1932, Georgia, following the census of 1930, lost two of its delegates in the House of Representatives having its apportionment reduced from 12 to 10 Representatives.

This necessitate of course a reapportionment of the Georgia Congressional Districts which was done under the Act of 1931.

This Act which is quoted at length in the appendix to our brief in which the statistics of which are set forth fully in the brief apportioned Georgia's 10 congressional districts throughout the State.

The largest, Fulton County, was roughly about 80% larger than the smallest district created under the Act of 1930.

It is noteworthy that the District Court seemed to find in this apportionment a not -- unreasonable deviation from popu -- population.

However, in the 30 intervening years since the apportionment of 1931, the Act has lost all contact with reality because of massive population shifts which have occurred in Georgia principally in her Fifth Congressional District, Metropolitan Atlanta which is seen an -- toward growth during that period of time.

In 1960, based on the population figures of the 1960 census, the Fifth Congressional District of Georgia was more than three times the size of the smallest congressional district in Georgia, the Ninth District with the exception of only one possible combination of congressional districts, Georgia's Fifth District, is larger than two -- any other two congressional districts in the entire State.

The 556,000 people residing in the Eighth and Ninth Congressional Districts of Georgia possessed two Representatives.

Yet in more than 823,000 people residing in Metropolitan Atlanta, the Fifth Congressional District, had only one Representative in the House of Representatives.

This, we submit, is the crux of our case.

It sets forth a clear violation not only of equal protection which is applicable to state legislative apportionment but it violates even more fundamentally the standards set forth in Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution and as applied to the States through the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

It is interesting to note that at the time of the decision in the District Court, the Fifth Congressional District of Georgia was the second most underrepresented congressional district in the whole United States out of 435 districts both from the point of view of population and from the point of view of percentage of deviation from statewide average districts.

It was exceeded only by the Fifth Congressional District of Texas, the Dallas District which is since been held unconstitutional, the Texas Districting System by the United States District Court in Texas in Bush v. Martin on October 19, 1963.

This Court, parenthetically, it may be noted, has granted a stay in that proceeding.It is also important to note that the District Court in ruling upon the claims presented by the appellants under the Privileges and Immunities Clause and under the Equal Protection Clause clearly decided the merits of this claim contrary to the suggestion made by the Solicitor General in this case, for the District Court said that it found the facts not in dispute and that the facts were adequate to reach the merits of the case.

The District Court itself felt that it was reaching the merits.

After reviewing ex -- extensively the facts set forth in the case, the District Court concluded that it did not find the proscribed invidiousness either from the point of view of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment all from the point of view of the rights asserted under Article I, Section 2.