GRAY V. SANDERS, 372 U. S. 368 (1963)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Gray v. Sanders, 372 U.S. 368 (1963)

Gray v. Sanders

No. 112

Argued January 17, 1963

Decided March 18, 1963

372 U.S. 368


Appellee, a qualified voter in primary and general elections in Fulton county, Georgia, sued in a Federal District Court to restrain appellants, the Secretary of State and officials of the State Democratic Executive Committee, from using Georgia's county unit system as a basis for counting votes in a Democratic primary election for the nomination of a United States Senator and statewide officers -- which was practically equivalent to election. Such primary elections are governed by a Georgia statute, which was amended in 1962 so as to allocate unit votes to counties as follows: counties with populations not exceeding 15,000, two units; an additional unit for the next 5,000 persons; an additional unit for the next 10,000; an additional unit for each of the next two brackets of 15,000; and, thereafter, two more units for each increase of 30,000. All candidates for statewide office were required to receive a majority of the county unit votes to be entitled to nomination in the first primary. The practical effect of this system is that the vote of each citizen counts for less and less as the population of his county increases, and a combination of the units from the counties having the smallest population gives counties having one-third of the total population of the State a clear majority of county votes.


1. Since the constitutionality of a state statute was involved and the question was a substantial one, a three-judge court was properly convened to hear this case, as required under 28 U.S.C. § 2281. P. 372 U. S. 370.

2. State regulation of these primary elections makes the election process state action within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 372 U. S. 374-375.

3. Appellee, like any person whose right to vote is impaired, had standing to sue. P. 372 U. S. 375.

Page 372 U. S. 369

4. The case is not moot by reason of the fact that the Democratic Committee voted to hold the 1962 primary election on a popular vote basis, since the 1962 Act remains in force, and it would govern future elections if the complaint were dismissed. Pp. 372 U. S. 375-376.

5. The use of this election system in a statewide election violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 372 U. S. 376-381.

(a) The District Court correctly held that the county unit system, as applied in a statewide election, violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, but it erred in framing its injunction so that a county unit system might be used in weighting the votes in a statewide election, if the system showed no greater disparity against a county than exists against any State in the conduct of national elections. Pp. 372 U. S. 373-374, 372 U. S. 376-379.

(b) The Equal Protection Clause requires that, once a geographical unit for which a representative is to be chosen is designated, all who participate in the election must have an equal vote -- whatever their race; whatever their sex; whatever their occupation; whatever their income, and wherever their home may be in that geographical unit. Pp. 372 U. S. 379-380.

(c) The only weighting of votes sanctioned by the Constitution concerns matters of representation, such as an allocation of Senators irrespective of population and the use of the electoral college in the choice of a President. Pp. 372 U. S. 380-381.

(d) 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. 372 U. S. 381.

203 F. Supp. 158, judgment vacated and case remanded.

Page 372 U. S. 370

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