Brown v. Thomson
Annotate this Case
462 U.S. 835 (1983)
U.S. Supreme Court
Brown v. Thomson, 462 U.S. 835 (1983)
Brown v. Thomson
Argued March 21, 1983
Decided June 22, 1983
462 U.S. 835
The Wyoming Legislature consists of a Senate and a House of Representatives. The State Constitution provides that each of the State's 23 counties shall constitute a senatorial and representative district and shall have at least one senator and one representative, and requires the senators and representatives to be apportioned among the counties "as nearly as may be according to the number of their inhabitants." A 1981 Wyoming statute reapportioned the House of Representatives and provided for 64 representatives. Based on the 1980 census placing Wyoming's population at 469,557, the ideal apportionment would have been 7,337 persons per representative. But the reapportionment resulted in an average deviation from population equality of 16% and a maximum deviation of 89%. Niobrara County, the State's least populous county, was given one representative, even though its population was only 2,924, the legislature having provided that a county would have a representative even if the statutory formula rounded the county's population to zero. The legislature also provided that, if Niobrara County's representation were held unconstitutional, it would be combined with a neighboring county in a single district, so that the House would consist of 63 representatives. Appellants (members of the League of Women Voters and residents of seven counties in which the population per representative is greater than the state average) filed an action in Federal District Court, alleging that granting Niobrara County a representative diluted the voting privileges of appellants and other voters similarly situated in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, and seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. The District Court upheld the constitutionality of the reapportionment statute.
Held: Wyoming has not violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by permitting Niobrara County to have its own representative. Pp. 462 U. S. 842-848.
(a) Some deviations from population equality may be necessary to permit the States to pursue other legitimate objectives such as "maintain[ing] the integrity of various political subdivisions" and "provid[ing] for compact districts of contiguous territory." Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U. S. 533, 377 U. S. 578. But an apportionment plan with population disparities larger
than 10% creates a prima facie case of discrimination, and therefore must be justified by the State, the ultimate inquiry being whether the plan may reasonably be said to advance a rational state policy and, if so whether the population disparities resulting from the plan exceed constitutional limits. Pp. 462 U. S. 842-843.
(b) This case presents an unusually strong example of an apportionment plan the population variations of which are entirely the result of the consistent and nondiscriminatory application of a legitimate state policy. Wyoming, since statehood, has followed a constitutional policy of using counties as representative districts and ensuring that each county has one representative. Moreover, Wyoming has applied the factor of preserving political subdivisions free from any taint of arbitrariness or discrimination. Pp. 462 U. S. 843-846.
(c) Wyoming's policy of preserving county boundaries justifies the additional deviations from population equality resulting from the provision of representation for Niobrara County. Considerable population variations would remain even if Niobrara County's representative were eliminated. Under the 63-member plan, the average deviation per representative would be 13% and the maximum deviation would be 66%. These statistics make it clear that the grant of a representative to Niobrara County is not a significant cause of the population deviations in Wyoming. Moreover, the differences between the two plans are justified on the basis of the above policy of preserving county boundaries. By enacting the 64-member plan, the State ensured that this policy applies nondiscriminatorily, whereas the effect of the 63-member plan would be to deprive Niobrara County voters of their own representative. Pp. 462 U. S. 846-848.
536 F.Supp. 780, affirmed.
POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and REHNQUIST, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. O'CONNOR, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which STEVENS, J., joined, post, p. 462 U. S. 848. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which WHITE, MARSHALL, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 462 U. S. 850.
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