Gray v. Sanders (1963)

Chief Justice Earl Warren once said that the most important judicial pronouncements of his tenure were not the momentous school-desegregation decisions, but the U.S. Supreme Court's rulings that compelled states throughout the nation to reconfigure their electoral processes according to the principle of "one person, one vote." In Baker v. Carr (1962), a seminal procedural ruling out of Tennessee, the Supreme Court held that reapportionment challenges could be brought in federal court under the "equal protection" clause, despite earlier suggestions that cases of this kind were "nonjusticiable."
The very first of the Supreme Court's post-Baker decisions on the merits in a reapportionment suit came as a result of a legal challenge brought by James Sanders, a voter in Fulton County, that targeted Georgia's county unit voting system in its application to elections for governor, U.S. senator, and other officeholders chosen on a statewide basis. (James H. Gray, the chair of the State Executive Committee of the Democratic Party, was among the named defendants, because the legal challenge focused on the party-run primary elections, which at that time determined the selection of the state's officeholders.) The problem with the county unit system, according to Sanders, was that it gave residents of small counties far more voting power than residents of more populous counties. Indeed, the imbalance was so great that rural counties that were home to only one-third of Georgia's population held a majority of county unit votes in statewide elections.
In striking down this voting scheme under the "equal protection" clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Court insisted, in an opinion by Justice William Douglas, that the American "conception of political equality . . . can mean only one thing—one person, one vote."
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Cite This Article
Coenen, Dan T. "Gray v. Sanders (1963)." New Georgia Encyclopedia. 05 June 2014. Web. 19 September 2014.
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