Reapportionment in the Courts

May 3, 1961

Report Outline
Test Of Malapportionment in High Court
Malapportionment in State Legislatures
Congressional Districting and the Courts

Test Of Malapportionment in High Court

Urban Dwellers, seeking representation in state legislatures that will be more nearly in proportion to their rapidly mounting numbers, are turning for assistance to the courts. Some state and federal tribunals, responding to such appeals, have ventured into the so-called political thicket of legislative apportionment despite earlier court decisions that have seemed to bar the way. The Supreme Court now has before it an appeal by a group of Tennessee voters from the decision of a three-judge federal court that found it lacked power to order reapportionment of seats in the state legislature. Oral arguments in the case (Baker v. Carr) were heard on April 19 and 20. A decision had been expected before the end of the current term. But on May 1, the Supreme Court, without stating its reasons, put the case down for reargument on Oct. 9, a week after opening of its next term.

The high tribunal's consideration of the case in April constituted the first full hearing of a malapportionment case in the Supreme Court since 1946, when it refused to grant relief in a dispute over congressional redistricting in Illinois. If the Court eventually decides that constitutional rights have been violated in Tennessee, and that the federal judiciary has authority and the means to compel legislative redistricting, a new avenue of relief would be open to urban residents of states in which rural lawmakers have blocked every effort at reapportionment, often in the face of state constitutional requirements, for periodic re-allocation of seats.

The Court's action in the Tennessee case may strongly affect future apportionment of congressional as well as state legislative seats. Malapportionment in state legislatures is generally recognized to be at the root of congressional malapportionment. One-half of the states are to gain or lose one or more seats in the House of Representatives as a result of population changes disclosed by the 1960 census, and many of them are expected to redistrict before the 1962 elections. Other states are being pressed to redistribute seats in their legislatures.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Reapportionment, Redistricting, and Representation
Aug. 25, 2017  Redistricting Showdown
Feb. 25, 2011  Redistricting Debates
Apr. 11, 2008  D.C. Voting Rights
Feb. 16, 2001  Redistricting
Aug. 12, 1994  Electing Minorities
Feb. 15, 1991  Redistricting: Drawing Power with a Map
Feb. 05, 1982  Reapportionment: Year of Decision
Sep. 30, 1964  Reapportionment Struggle
May 03, 1961  Reapportionment in the Courts
Oct. 29, 1958  Unequal Representation
Oct. 10, 1950  Representation in the United Nations
Jan. 03, 1950  Legislative Apportionment
Nov. 08, 1938  Proportional Representation
May 13, 1929  The Census and Reapportionment
Dec. 06, 1927  Apportionment of Representatives in Congress
Federal Courts
Reapportionment and Redistricting
Supreme Court History and Decisions