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Gray v. Sanders


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372 U.S. 368 (1963), argued 17 Jan 1963, decided 18 Mar. 1963 by vote of 8 to 1; Douglas for the Court, Stewart and Clark concurring, Harlan in dissent. Concerned with inequality of voting power, Gray v. Sanders proved to be the jurisprudential stepping-stone between Baker v. Carr (1962) and the 1964 legislative reapportionment cases.

Gray involved a challenge to Georgia's system that decided primary elections for statewide and congressional offices by county units in a pattern severely weighted against urban areas. Candidates who won the popular vote could, and at times did, lose the election. The Georgia statute had survived several earlier appeals to the Supreme Court, but the decision in Baker v. Carr triggered a fresh one.

Invoking the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Supreme Court upheld a federal district court's invalidation of the Georgia county unit system but set aside as “inapposite” the lower tribunal's suggested alternative analogous to the national Electoral College.

The Supreme Court declared Gray v. Sanders to be a voting rights case without implications for legislative representation—a point stressed by concurring Justices Potter Stewart and Tom C. Clark. Yet Justice William O. Douglas, speaking for the Court, concluded on a broader note that was to be sounded in subsequent reapportionment cases: “The conception of political equality from the Declaration of Independence, to Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, to the Fifteenth, Seventeenth, and Nineteenth Amendments can mean only one thing—one person, one vote” (p. 381).

In dissent, Justice John M. Harlan found the record inadequate to prove invidious effects in a matter profoundly touching the barrier between federal judicial and state legislative authority. To Harlan, Gray seemed one more judicial step into the forbidden “political thicket.”

Gordon E. Baker

Subjects: Law.


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