Wright v. Rockefeller

RESPONDENT: Rockefeller
LOCATION: Taylor Street Pharmacy

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962-1965)

CITATION: 376 US 52 (1964)
ARGUED: Nov 19, 1963
DECIDED: Feb 17, 1964

Facts of the case


Media for Wright v. Rockefeller

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 19, 1963 (Part 2) in Wright v. Rockefeller

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 19, 1963 (Part 1) in Wright v. Rockefeller

Earl Warren:

Number 96, Yvette M. Wright et al., Appellants, versus Nelson A. Rockefeller, Governor of New York.

Mr. Feldman.

Justin N. Feldman:

Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

This case differs from the state apportionment cases and from the Georgia congressional district case, congressional districting case, because this case involves racial gerrymandering.

It presents the question may a state segregate voter by race in the drawing of congressional district lines?

At the same time, it presents another question, may a state by its silence, by its refusal to introduce any proof whatsoever justify such segregation as a matter of law?

I have phrased this latter question in this way because the appellants contend that in creating New York Counties, Manhattan Islands, if you will, four congressional districts in 1961 when the legislature cut down the number of districts previously apportioned to Manhattan at 6-to-4.

The legislature created two of those four districts that were racially gerrymandered.

One, a virtually all white district, and one, a virtually all Negro and for the Puerto Rican district, and not only were these districts racially gerrymandered but as we prove below and as I shall review for this Court momentarily, they were racially gerrymandered by the legislature in a way which presented the maximum so to speak and that the legislature could not possibly have created districts in this particular urban area which would have been any more segregated.

The state has been absolutely silent as to the background of the statute.

There is no legislative history.

The districting statute was enacted in 1961 in an extraordinary or special session of the legislature convened one day when the bill was laid on the desks of the legislators or one evening I should say and enacted the next morning and signed by the governor that day.

No hearings, no debate, there was a vote but that was all, so that that sheds no light.

Therefore, we had to prove that the purpose and effect of the portion of the statute we challenge, namely the portion directed toward the districting of Manhattan Island, we had purpose and effect of apportion we challenge.

We had to prove the purpose and effect I should say by analysis and inference.

And we submit that if our proof, if the totality of our proof, if you will, to use the language of Johnson against Virginia.

If the totality of our proof is not deemed sufficient for this purpose, it would mean in our judgment that no one could ever prove unconstitutional racial districting in any urban area of the United States.

And we also submit that if this proof that I'm about to discuss does not prove racial districting, in the case of Manhattan Island, then it proves that there was no rational basis.

It proves to use the language of the Solicitor General of the last week "crazy quilt districting", no rhyme or reason districting, because I submit there is no other discernable basis for this districting other than race.

Now, what is it the legislature did and how did --

Byron R. White:


Justin N. Feldman:

I'm suggesting sir, that we prove the racial inference.

No one has come --

Byron R. White:


Justin N. Feldman:

In this record.

Byron R. White:

Are thereby eliminating the political --

Justin N. Feldman:

Yes sir, I eliminate a political reason and I think we could -- we could also demonstrate and perhaps even did demonstrate below the elimination of that but let's come back to that Mr. Justice White if you like to later.

The question is, what if they do and how did they do it?

Well, what did they start with?

They started that the will where they only contained political subdivision, an island, New York County.