For more than a century, the Rockland County board of
supervisors consisted of the supervisors of the county's five
towns, resulting in extensive functional interrelationships and
intergovernmental coordination between county and towns. Severe
malapportionment due to population growth led to court-ordered
reapportionment. The proposed plan, challenged by petitioners,
provides for a county legislature of 18 members chosen from five
districts, corresponding with the towns, each district being
assigned legislators in the proportion of its population to that of
the smallest town. The plan produces a total deviation from
equality of 11.9%. The Court of Appeals of New York upheld the
In light of the long tradition of overlapping
functions and dual personnel in the Rockland County government and
the fact that the plan does not contain any built-in bias favoring
particular political interests or geographic areas, the plan is not
violative of the Equal Protection Clause. Pp. 403 U. S.
25 N.Y.2d 309, 253 N.E.2d 189, affirmed.
MARSHALL, J delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER,
C.J., and BLACK, WHITE, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined. HARLAN, J.,
filed a statement concurring in the result. STEWART, J., concurred
in the judgment. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which
DOUGLAS, J., joined, post,
p. 403 U. S.
Page 403 U. S. 183
MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.
In this case, petitioners challenge the constitutionality of a
reapportionment plan proposed in response to both federal and state
court findings of malapportionment in Rockland County, New York.
The Court of Appeals of the State of New York upheld the plan. We
For more than 100 years, Rockland County was governed by a board
of supervisors consisting of the supervisors of each of the
county's five constituent towns. This county legislature was not
separately elected; rather, its members held their county offices
by virtue of their election as town supervisors -- a pattern that
typified New York county government. The result has been a local
structure in which overlapping public services are provided by the
towns and their county working in close cooperation. For example,
in Rockland County, the towns adopt their own budgets and submit
them to the county, which levies taxes. These taxes are based on
real property assessments established by the towns but equalized by
the county board. Similarly, public services such as waste disposal
and snow removal are provided through cooperative efforts among the
municipalities. There is no indication that these joint efforts
have declined in importance; in fact, respondents strenuously urge
that the county's rapidly expanding population has amplified the
need for town and county coordination in the future.
The county's increased population also produced severe
malapportionment -- so severe that, in 1966, a federal district
court required that the county board submit a reapportionment plan
to the Rockland County voters, Lodico v. Board of
256 F. Supp. 440 (SDNY). Pursuant to that order,
three different plans were devised and submitted to the electorate,
but each was rejected at the polls. The present action was brought
in 1968 to compel the board to reapportion. After its
Page 403 U. S. 184
initial proposal was rejected by the New York courts, the board
submitted the plan that is the subject of this decision.
The challenged plan, based on 1969 population figures, provides
for a county legislature composed of 18 members chosen from five
legislative districts. These districts exactly correspond to the
county's five constituent towns. Each district is assigned its
legislators according to the district's population in relation to
the population of the smallest town, Stony Point. Stony Point has a
population of 12,114 and is assigned one representative in the
county legislature. The number of representatives granted the other
districts is determined by dividing the population of each by the
population of the smallest town. Fractional results of the
computation are rounded to the nearest integer, and this need to
round off "fractional representatives" produces some variations
among districts in terms of population per legislator. Under 1969
population figure, the Orangetown district is the most
"underrepresented" (7.1%); while Clarkstown is the most
"overrepresented" (4.8%). Thus, the plan presently produces a total
deviation from population equality of 11.9%. [Footnote 1
] Petitioners attack these deviations as
Page 403 U. S. 185
It is well established that electoral apportionment must be
based on the general principle of population equality, and that
this principle applies to state and local elections, Avery v.
Midland County, 390 U. S. 474
390 U. S. 481
(1968). "Mathematical exactness or precision is hardly a workable
constitutional requirement," Reynolds v. Sims,
377 U. S. 533
377 U.S. 577
deviations from population equality must be justified by legitimate
state considerations, Swann v. Adams, 385 U.
, 385 U. S. 444
(1967). Because voting rights require highly sensitive safeguards,
this Court has carefully scrutinized state interests offered to
justify deviations from population equality. In assessing the
constitutionality of various apportionment plans, we have observed
that viable local governments may need considerable flexibility in
municipal arrangements if they are to meet changing societal needs,
Sailors v. Board of Education, 387 U.
, 387 U. S.
-111 (1967), and that a desire to preserve the
integrity of political subdivisions may justify an apportionment
plan which departs from numerical equality. Reynolds v. Sims,
at 377 U.S.
. These observations, along with the facts that local
legislative bodies frequently have fewer representatives than do
their state and national counterparts, and that some local
legislative districts may have a much smaller population than do
congressional and state legislative districts, lend support to the
argument that slightly greater percentage deviations may be
tolerable for local government apportionment schemes, cf.
Of course, this Court has never suggested that certain
geographic areas or political interests are entitled to
disproportionate representation. Rather, our statements have
reflected the view that the particular circumstances and needs of a
local community as a whole may sometimes justify departures from
Accordingly, we have underscored the danger of apportionment
structures that contain a built-in bias tending
Page 403 U. S. 186
to favor particular geographic areas or political interests or
which necessarily will tend to favor, for example, less populous
districts over their more highly populated neighbors, see
Hadley v. Junior College District, 397 U. S.
, 397 U. S. 57
(1970). In this case, we have no such indigenous bias; there is no
suggestion that the Rockland County plan was designed to favor
particular groups. It is true that the existence of any deviations
from strict equality means that certain districts are advantaged at
that point in time; but, under this plan, changing demographic
patterns may shift electoral advantages from one town to another.
The mere absence of a built-in bias is not, of course,
justification for a departure from population equality. In this
case, however, Rockland County defends its plan by asserting the
long history of, and perceived need for, close cooperation between
the county and its constituent towns. The need for
intergovernmental coordination is often greatest at the local
level, and we have already commented on the extensive functional
interrelationships between Rockland County and its towns. But
because almost all governmental entities are interrelated in
numerous ways, we would be hesitant to accept this justification by
itself. To us, therefore, it is significant that Rockland County
has long recognized the advantages of having the same individuals
occupy the governing positions of both the county and its towns.
For over 100 years, the five town supervisors were the only members
of the county board, a system that necessarily fostered extensive
interdependence between the towns and their county government. When
population shifts required that some towns receive a greater
portion of seats on the
Page 403 U. S. 187
county legislature, Rockland County responded with a plan that
substantially remedies the malapportionment and that, by preserving
an exact correspondence between each town and one of the county
legislative districts, continues to encourage town supervisors to
serve on the county board.
We emphasize that our decision is based on the long tradition of
overlapping functions and dual personnel in Rockland County
government and on the fact that the plan before us does not contain
a built-in bias tending to favor particular political interests or
geographic areas. And nothing we say today should be taken to imply
that even these factors could justify substantially greater
deviations from population equality. But we are not prepared to
hold that the Rockland County reapportionment plan violates the
Constitution, and, therefore, we affirm.
MR. JUSTICE HARLAN concurs in the result for the reasons stated
in his separate opinion in Whitcomb v. Chavis, ante,
403 U. S.
MR. JUSTICE STEWART concurs in the judgment.
All of the population figures and percentage deviations are:
Number of Percentage**
District Population* Representatives Deviations
Stony Point 12,114 1 O.3
Haverstraw 23,676 2 2.5
Orangetown 52,080 4 - 7.1
Clarkstown 57,883 5 4.8
Ramapo 73,051 6 - O.2
* 1969 Population data.
** (-) refers to "underrepresented."
Petitioners also attack the plan's use of multi-member
districts. However, they have not shown that these multi-member
districts, by themselves, operate to impair the voting strength of
particular racial or political elements of the Rockland County
voting population, see Burns v. Richardson, 384 U. S.
, 384 U. S. 88
Naturally, we express no opinion on the contention that, in
future years, the Rockland County plan may produce substantially
greater deviations than presently exist. Such questions can be
answered if and when they arise.
MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN, with whom MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS joins,
The Court today reaffirms all of the principles of Reynolds
v. Sims, 377 U. S. 533
(1964), and its progeny, but refuses, for a combination of reasons
unpersuasive to me, to apply those principles to this apportionment
scheme. I believe that our recent decisions in Avery v. Midland
County, 390 U. S. 474
(1968); Kirkpatrick v. Preisler, 394 U.
(1969), and Wells v. Rockefeller,
394 U. S. 542
(1969), require reversal, and I therefore dissent.
The Court holds that
"a desire to preserve the integrity of political subdivisions
may justify an apportionment plan which departs from numerical
Page 403 U. S. 188
v. Sims, supra,
at 403 U. S. 185
The Court's reliance on Reynolds
is misplaced. We said
"it may be feasible to use political subdivision lines to a
greater extent in establishing state legislative districts than in
377 U.S. at 377 U.S.
. But we warned that
"[t]o do so would be constitutionally valid, so long a
the resulting apportionment was one based substantially on
population and the equal population principle was not diluted in
(emphasis added). Moreover, the Court did not, at
that point in time, "deem it expedient . . . to attempt to spell
out any precise constitutional tests." We have done so since.
In Kirkpatrick v. Preisler, supra,
we explained that,
because "[t]oleration of even small deviations detracts from" the
constitutional command of "equal representation for equal numbers
of people," only those "limited population variances which are
unavoidable despite a good faith effort to achieve absolute
equality, or for which justification is shown" are permissible. 394
U.S. at 394 U. S. 531
"[T]he State must justify each variance, no matter how small."
On the record presented here, it is clear that such
a good faith effort has not been made. Nor can it be said that
sufficient justification has been demonstrated for an 11.9%
deviation from voting equality.
The plan approved here allegedly represents as close to
mathematical exactness as is possible without changing existing
political boundaries or using weighted or fractional votes. But a
plan devised under these constraints is not devised in the good
faith effort that the Constitution requires. In Wells v.
we struck down a similar plan. We held
that an attempt to maintain existing county lines was insufficient
justification for a 12.1% variance. In explanation, we stated that
an attempt "to keep regions with distinct interests intact"
Page 403 U. S. 189
was insufficient because to accept such a justification
"would permit groups of districts with defined interest
orientations to be overrepresented at the expense of districts with
different interest orientations."
394 U.S. at 394 U. S. 546
That is precisely what we are dealing with here. The attempt to
maintain existing town lines has resulted in a variance from
equality of 11.9%. I cannot believe that a 0.2% differential is the
determining factor in approving this apportionment scheme.
The Court explains that it is, rather, a combination of factors
that dictates this result, and that, among them, is the fact that
New York has a long history of maintaining the integrity of
existing counties. It is not clear to me why such a history, no
matter how protracted, should alter the constitutional command to
make a good faith effort to achieve equality of voting power as
near to mathematical exactness as is possible.
Today's result cannot be excused by asserting that local
governments are somehow less important than national and state
governments. We have already fully applied the principle of one
man, one vote to local polities because
"the States universally leave much policy and decisionmaking to
their governmental subdivisions. . . . In a word, institutions of
local government have always been a major aspect of our system, and
their responsible and responsive operation is today of increasing
importance to the quality of life of more and more of our
Avery v. Midland County,
390 U.S. at 390 U. S.
It is clear to me that none of the factors relied upon by the
Court today can, singly or in combination, justify this variation.
Obviously no other local apportionment scheme can possibly present
the same combination of factors relied on by the Court today. In
that sense, this decision can have little or no precedential value.
Nevertheless, I cannot help but regret even this small departure
from the basic constitutional concept of one man, one vote.