1964 June 15

Supreme Court Establishes “One Man, One Vote” Rule


In Reynolds v. Sims, decided on this day, the Supreme Court ruled that state legislative districts had to be roughly equal in population, establishing the principle of “one man, one vote.” The Reynolds decision followed Baker v. Carr, decided on March 26, 1962, in which the Court held that the apportionment of legislative districts was a “justiciable” issue subject to constitutional standards. The long-term effect of Reynolds v. Sims was to reduce the influence of rural voters and increase the power of urban and suburban areas.

The case was argued before the Supreme Court by Charles Morgan, a white attorney from Birmingham, Alabama. Morgan had been forced to leave that city after denouncing the racist bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, which killed four young African-American girls. See September 15, 1963, for the bombing, and September 16, 1963, for Morgan’s courageous speech. He then became the Director of the ACLU Southern Regional Office in Atlanta, and in that capacity argued a number of important civil rights cases.

Chief Justice Earl Warren for the Court: “Legislators represent people, not trees or acres. Legislators are elected by voters, not farms or cities or economic interests . . . the overriding objective must be substantial equality of population among the various districts, so that the vote of any citizen is approximately equal in weight to that of any other citizen in the State.”

Listen to the oral arguments in Reynolds v. Sims: http://www.oyez.org/cases/1960-1969/1963/1963_23

Read: Richard C. Cortner, The Apportionment Cases (1970)

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