Salyer Land Co. v. Tulare Water Dist.
410 U.S. 719 (1973)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Salyer Land Co. v. Tulare Water Dist., 410 U.S. 719 (1973)

Salyer Land Co. v. Tulare Lake Basin Water Storage District

No. 71-1456

Argued January 8, 1973

Decided March 20, 1973

410 U.S. 719

Syllabus

Appellee district exists for the purpose of acquiring, storing, and distributing water for farming in the Tulare Lake Basin. Only landowners are qualified to elect the district's board of directors, votes being apportioned according to the assessed valuation of the lands. A three-judge District Court, against challenge by appellants, held that the limitation of the franchise to landowners comported with equal protection requirements.

Held:

1. Restricting the voters to landowners who may or may not be residents does not violate the principle enunciated in such cases as Reynolds v. Sims,377 U. S. 533, and Kramer v. Union School District,395 U. S. 621, that governing bodies should be selected in a popular election in which every person's vote is equal. Pp. 726- 410 U. S. 730.

(a) The activities of appellee district fall so disproportionately on landowners as a group that it is not unreasonable that the statutory framework focuses on the land benefited, rather than on people as such. Pp. 410 U. S. 726-728.

(b) Although appellee district has some governmental powers, it provides none of the general public services ordinarily attributed to a governing body. Pp. 410 U. S. 728-729.

2. Since assessments against landowners are the sole means by which expenses of appellee district are paid, it is not irrational to repose the franchise in landowners, but not residents. Pp. 410 U. S. 730-731.

3. The exclusion of lessees from voting does not violate the Equal Protection Clause, since the short-term lessee's interest may be substantially less than that of a landowner and, the franchise being exercisable by proxy, other lessees may negotiate to have the franchise included in their leases. Pp. 410 U. S. 731-733.

4. Weighting the vote according to assessed valuation of the land does not evade the principle that wealth has no relation to voter qualifications where, as here, the expense as well as the benefit is proportional to the land's assessed value. Pp. 410 U. S. 733-735.

342 F.Supp. 144, affirmed.

Page 410 U. S. 720

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART WHITE BLACKMUN, and POWELL, JJ., joined. DOUGLAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 410 U. S. 735.

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