WMCA, Inc. v. Lomenzo

LOCATION: U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962-1965)

CITATION: 377 US 633 (1964)
ARGUED: Nov 12, 1963 / Nov 13, 1963
DECIDED: Jun 15, 1964

Facts of the case

The WMCA, acting on behalf of several New York City registered voters, challenged the constitutionality of Article III, Sections 2-5 of the New York State constitution alleging that its apportionment formula resulted in unfair weighting of both state legislature houses by favoring lesser populated rural areas over densely populated urban centers. On appeal from a dismissal of their complaint by a three-judge district court, the Supreme Court granted the WMCA certiorari.


Did the apportionment formula contained in Article III, Sections 2-5, of the New York State constitution violate the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause?

Media for WMCA, Inc. v. Lomenzo

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 13, 1963 in WMCA, Inc. v. Lomenzo
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 12, 1963 (Part 1) in WMCA, Inc. v. Lomenzo

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 12, 1963 (Part 2) in WMCA, Inc. v. Lomenzo

Earl Warren:

Mr. Solicitor General, you may continue.

Archibald Cox:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

Before the recess, I was attempting to indicate without defining precisely what I meant by permissive -- permissible objectives of legislative apportionment.

And I was suggesting that if -- if a state drew a line, in a way rationally related to one of those permissible objectives, then the apportionment would not run afoul of either my first, second or third general principle.

Whether it runs afoul of the fourth principle, the one introducing a question of degree, remains to be covered, but up to this point, my argument would not condemn any apportionment aimed in such a direction, having such a function.

The point I was trying to make was that those rules are fundamentally different from differentiations or classifications among voters whose function is to give the farmer more representation than the city dweller, the shipping interest, more representation than the wage earner, the city dweller, more or less than the suburbanite and so forth, or the Protestant or the Jew.

The latter kind -- that whole latter class when applied to political rights, including representation, we say is the very antithesis of the ideal of equality before the law.

Now, I find support for that proposition that it's the antithesis of equality before the law, in four places.

In the first place, I suggest that the principle that their polity, the people as a whole, knows no distinction in the political worth of one man as opposed to another, is just as fundamental a strain in our constitutional parity as the principle that it knows no distinction in political matters between the naturalized citizen and the natural born citizen, according to religion or according to the red-headed man and the dark-headed man or the bald-headed man.

We filed an elaborate appendix to our brief in the Maryland case, in which we show the extent to which the ideas of equal representation per capita was accepted in the constitutional convention of 1789 and in the ratifying conventions, as a principle applicable to any government, dealing directly with its own citizens and drawing its authority directly from the citizens in the 18th Century philosophy, as distinguished from a legislative body representing sovereign states.

The practice in later years fell somewhat short of the theory.

Indeed, it was short of the professed ideal and at that time.

But nevertheless, each stage in our history has brought us closer to wiping out the distinctions between one man and another in matters of his political worth.

As Justice Douglas said, in Gray and Sanders, the conception of a politically equality from the declaration of independence to Lincoln's Gettysburg Address to the Fifteenth, Seventeenth and Eighteenth Amendments can mean only one thing and one man --


Archibald Cox:

One vote, nineteenth, Mr. Justice, I'm -- I'm sorry.

Occasionally, one finds a political figure, praising the unique virtue of the rural voter or defending the preferred power of some special interest, but I know of no eminent statesman or political philosopher who has avowed to view that it is proper to wait the legislature, so as to assign to the farm interest, the wage earning interest, the urban interest or any other class or interest, a political power disproportioned to its numbers.

That may have done in other countries but I think no one has ever urged that here.

Potter Stewart:

You're jumping from one thing to another it seems to me Mr. Solicitor General.

Your first principle Gray against Sanders would say that it would be constitutionally impermissible in the Montgomery County District for example, to give two votes to the farmers in that district and only, one vote to the people who lived in Rockville or in -- or in the suburban communities.

That's -- that's one principle.

That's one principle that was decided in Gray against Sanders.

But now, you're jumping to something else, when you're talking about representation of an electorate, all of those voters counted fully and fairly in the election in a -- in a representative legislative assembly in the state capital, these are two different subjects.

Archibald Cox:

As I recognize (Voice Overlap) --

Potter Stewart:

There are apples and oranges.

Archibald Cox:

I recognize they are two different subjects, one of my four sources, I'd be glad to deal with now, is Gray and Sanders and I submit that on this point, Gray and Sanders is logically decisive.

I see no rate -- if it is impermissible, if it is contrary to our fundamental ideal of authority to give one man more weight than another or one group more weight than another, in choosing a governor, it would seem to me it was equally contrary to the notion of fundamental political authority to deliberately give one group more weight than another in choosing a legislature.

It seems to me that Justice Harlan in this respect was quite right when he said that there was no difference.

Now, this does not, Mr. Justice Stewart, argue that Gray and Sanders is decisive of this whole problem.

It clearly isn't because legislative apportionment serves functions that elections within a single constituency do not serve, and I was trying to indicate those at the latter part of my argument this morning, but in terms of valuing a man who's a wage earner more than a man who's a lawyer or vice versa or according to his religion or anything else, in that field, I see no difference.