MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.
Petitioner, a taxpayer and voter in Midland County, Texas, sought a determination by this Court that the Texas Supreme Court erred in concluding that selection of the Midland County Commissioners Court from single-member districts of substantially unequal population did
Midland County has a population of about 70,000. The Commissioners Court is composed of five members. One, the County Judge, is elected at large from the entire county, and in practice casts a vote only to break a tie. The other four are Commissioners chosen from districts. The population of those districts, according to the 1963 estimates that were relied upon when this case was tried, was respectively 67,906; 852; 414; and 828. This vast imbalance resulted from placing in a single district virtually the entire city of Midland, Midland County's only urban center, in which 95% of the county's population resides.
The Commissioners Court is assigned by the Texas Constitution and by various statutory enactments with a variety of functions. According to the commentary to Vernon's Texas Statutes, the court:
Petitioner sued the Commissioners Court and its members in the Midland County District Court, alleging that the disparity in district population violated the Fourteenth Amendment and that he had standing as a resident, taxpayer, and voter in the district with the largest population. Three of the four commissioners testified at the trial, all telling the court (as indeed the population statistics for the established districts demonstrated) that population was not a major factor in the districting process. The trial court ruled for petitioner. It made no explicit reference to the Fourteenth Amendment, but said the apportionment plan in effect was not "for the convenience of the people," the apportionment standard established by Art. V, § 18, of the Texas Constitution. The court ordered the defendant commissioners to adopt a new plan in which each precinct would have "substantially the same number of people."
The Texas Court of Civil Appeals reversed the judgment of the District Court and entered judgment for the respondents, 397 S.W.2d 919 (1965). It held that neither federal nor state law created a requirement that Texas county commissioners courts be districted according to population.
In Reynolds v. Sims, supra, the Equal Protection Clause was applied to the apportionment of state legislatures. Every qualified resident, Reynolds determined, has the right to a ballot for election of state legislators of equal weight to the vote of every other resident, and that right is infringed when legislators are elected from districts of substantially unequal population. The question now before us is whether the Fourteenth Amendment likewise forbids the election of local government officials from districts of disparate population. As has
The Equal Protection Clause reaches the exercise of state power however manifested, whether exercised directly or through subdivisions of the State.
Although the forms and functions of local government and the relationships among the various units are matters of state concern, it is now beyond question that a State's political subdivisions must comply with the Fourteenth Amendment.
When the State apportions its legislature, it must have due regard for the Equal Protection Clause. Similarly, when the State delegates lawmaking power to local government and provides for the election of local officials from districts specified by statute, ordinance, or local charter, it must insure that those qualified to vote have the right to an equally effective voice in the election process. If voters residing in oversize districts are denied their constitutional right to participate in the election of state legislators, precisely the same kind of deprivation occurs when the members of a city council, school board, or county governing board are elected from districts of substantially unequal population. If the five senators representing a city in the state legislature may not be elected from districts ranging in size from 50,000 to 500,000, neither is it permissible to elect the members of the city council from those same districts. In either case, the votes of some residents have greater weight
That the state legislature may itself be properly apportioned does not exempt subdivisions from the Fourteenth Amendment. While state legislatures exercise extensive power over their constituents and over the various units of local government, the States universally leave much policy and decisionmaking to their governmental subdivisions. Legislators enact many laws but do not attempt to reach those countless matters of local concern necessarily left wholly or partly to those who govern at the local level. What is more, in providing for the governments of their cities, counties, towns, and districts, the States characteristically provide for representative government—for decisionmaking at the local level by representatives elected by the people. And, not infrequently, the delegation of power to local units is contained in constitutional provisions for local home rule which are immune from legislative interference. 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 citizens. We therefore see little difference, in terms of the application of the Equal Protection Clause and of the principles of Reynolds v. Sims, between the exercise of state power through legislatures and its exercise by elected officials in the cities, towns, and counties.
The Midland County Commissioners Court is such a unit. While the Texas Supreme Court found that the Commissioners Court's legislative functions are "negligible," 406 S. W. 2d, at 426, the court does have power to make a large number of decisions having a broad range of impacts on all the citizens of the county. It sets a tax rate, equalizes assessments, and issues bonds. It then prepares and adopts a budget for allocating the county's funds, and is given by statute a wide range of discretion in choosing the subjects on which to spend. In adopting the budget the court makes both long-term judgments about the way Midland County should develop—whether industry should be solicited, roads improved, recreation facilities built, and land set aside for schools—and immediate choices among competing needs.
The Texas Supreme Court concluded that the work actually done by the Commissioners Court "disproportionately concern[s] the rural areas," 406 S. W. 2d, at 428. Were the Commissioners Court a special-purpose unit of government assigned the performance of functions
The Equal Protection Clause does not, of course, require that the State never distinguish between citizens, but only that the distinctions that are made not be arbitrary or invidious. The conclusion of Reynolds v. Sims was that bases other than population were not acceptable grounds for distinguishing among citizens when determining the size of districts used to elect members of state legislatures. We hold today only that the Constitution
This Court is aware of the immense pressures facing units of local government, and of the greatly varying problems with which they must deal. The Constitution does not require that a uniform straitjacket bind citizens in devising mechanisms of local government suitable for local needs and efficient in solving local problems. Last Term, for example, the Court upheld a procedure for choosing a school board that placed the selection with school boards of component districts even though the component boards had equal votes and served unequal populations. Sailors v. Board of Education, 387 U.S. 105 (1967). The Court rested on the administrative nature of the area school board's functions and the essentially appointive form of the scheme employed. In Dusch v. Davis, 387 U.S. 112 (1967), the Court permitted Virginia Beach to choose its legislative body by a scheme that included at-large voting for candidates, some of whom had to be residents of particular districts, even though the residence districts varied widely in population.
The Sailors and Dusch cases demonstrate that the Constitution and this Court are not roadblocks in the path of innovation, experiment, and development among units of local government. We will not bar what Professor Wood has called "the emergence of a new ideology and structure of public bodies, equipped with new capacities and motivations . . . ." R. Wood, 1400 Governments, at 175 (1961). Our decision today is only that the Constitution imposes one ground rule for the development of arrangements of local government: a requirement that units with general governmental powers over an entire
The judgment below is vacated and the case is remanded for disposition not inconsistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
MR. JUSTICE HARLAN, dissenting.
I could not disagree more with this decision, which wholly disregards statutory limitations upon the appellate jurisdiction of this Court in state cases and again betrays such insensitivity to the appropriate dividing lines between the judicial and political functions under our constitutional system.
I believe that this Court lacks jurisdiction over this case because, properly analyzed, the Texas judgment must be seen either to rest on an adequate state ground or to be wanting in "finality." The history of the Texas proceedings, as related in the Court's opinion, ante, at 477-478, clearly reveals that the decision of the Texas Supreme Court disallowing the present county apportionment scheme rests upon a state as well as a federal ground. The state ground—Art. V, § 18, of the Texas Constitution—was clearly adequate to support the result. This should suffice to defeat the exercise of this Court's jurisdiction. See, e. g., Department of Mental Hygiene v. Kirchner, 380 U.S. 194; Herb v. Pitcairn, 324 U.S. 117, 125-126.
Nor does this Court have jurisdiction to review the Texas Supreme Court's statement that in reapportioning the county in the future the county commissioners may take into account factors other than population. That
On these scores, I would dismiss the writ as improvidently granted.
On the merits, which I reach only because the Court has done so, I consider this decision, which extends the state apportionment rule of Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533, to an estimated 80,000 units of local government throughout the land, both unjustifiable and ill-advised.
I continue to think that these adventures of the Court in the realm of political science are beyond its constitutional powers, for reasons set forth at length in my dissenting opinion in Reynolds, 377 U. S., at 589 et seq.
The argument most generally heard for justifying the entry of the federal courts into the field of state legislative apportionment is that since state legislatures had widely failed to correct serious malapportionments in their own structure, and since no other means of redress had proved available through the political process, this Court was entitled to step into the picture.
No claim is made in this case that avenues of political redress are not open to correct any malapportionment in elective local governmental units, and it is difficult to envisage how such a situation could arise. Local governments are creatures of the States, and they may be reformed either by the state legislatures, which are now required to be apportioned according to Reynolds, or by amendment of state constitutions.
There is another reason why the Court should at least wait for a suitable period before applying the Reynolds dogma to local governments. The administrative feasibility of judicial application of the "one man, one vote" rule to the apportionment even of state legislatures has not yet been demonstrated. A number of significant administrative questions remain unanswered,
There are also convincing functional reasons why the Reynolds rule should not apply to local governmental units at all. The effect of Reynolds was to read a long debated political theory—that the only permissible basis for the selection of state legislators is election by majority vote within areas which are themselves equal in population —into the United States Constitution, thereby foreclosing the States from experimenting with legislatures rationally formed in other ways. Even assuming that this result could be justified on the state level, because of the substantial identity in form and function of the state legislatures, and because of the asserted practical necessities for federal judicial interference referred to above, the "one man, one vote" theory is surely a hazardous generalization on the local level. As has been noted previously, no "practical necessity" has been asserted to justify application of the rule to local governments. More important, the greater and more varied range of functions performed by local governmental units implies that flexibility in the form of their structure is
The present case affords one example of why the "one man, one vote" rule is especially inappropriate for local governmental units. The Texas Supreme Court held as a matter of Texas law:
Despite the specialized role of the commissioners court, the majority has undertaken to bring it within the ambit of Reynolds simply by classifying it as "a unit of local government with general responsibility and power for local affairs." See ante, at 483. Although this approach is intended to afford "equal protection" to all voters in Midland County, it would seem that it in fact discriminates against the county's rural inhabitants. The commissioners court, as found by the Texas Supreme Court, performs more functions in the area of the county outside Midland City than it does within the city limits. Therefore, each rural resident has a greater interest in its activities than each city dweller. Yet under the majority's formula the urban residents are to have a dominant voice in the county government, precisely proportional to their numbers, and little or no allowance may be made
This problem is not a trivial one and is not confined to Midland County. It stems from the fact that local governments, unlike state governments, are often specialized in function.
Despite the majority's declaration that it is not imposing a "straitjacket" on local governmental units, see ante, at 485, its solution is likely to have other undesirable
These functional considerations reinforce my belief that the "one man, one vote" rule, which possesses the simplistic defects inherent in any judicially imposed solution of a complex social problem,
No better demonstration of this proposition could have been made than that afforded by the admirable analysis contained in the dissenting opinion of my Brother FORTAS. But, with respect, my Brother's projected solution of the matter is no less unsatisfactory. For it would bid fair to plunge this Court into an avalanche of local reapportionment cases with no firmer constitutional anchors than its own notions of what constitutes "equal protection" in any given instance.
With deference, I think that the only sure-footed way of avoiding, on the one hand, the inequities inherent in today's decision, and on the other, the morass of pitfalls that would follow from my Brother FORTAS' approach, is for this Court to decline to extend the constitutional experiment of Reynolds, and to leave the structuring of local governmental units to the political process where it belongs.
I would dismiss the writ in this case as improvidently granted. The Texas Supreme Court held the districting scheme unlawful under the Texas Constitution. It ordered redistricting. In this difficult and delicate area I would await the result of the redistricting so that we may pass upon the final product of Texas' exercise of its governmental powers, in terms of our constitutional responsibility, and not upon a scheme which Texas itself has invalidated.
The Court's opinion argues (ante, at 478, n. 2) that the Texas Supreme Court's order is a final judgment because it contemplates no further proceedings in the Texas courts, although it holds the present districting unlawful and requires the Commissioners Court to redistrict. I do not reach this point.
The Court acts now to superimpose its own formula because it disagrees with the standard for redistricting that the Texas Supreme Court states. That standard directed redistricting on the basis of the "number of qualified voters, land areas, geography, miles of county roads and taxable values." 406 S.W.2d 422, 428. This standard may or may not produce a result which this Court or I would find constitutionally acceptable. We cannot know in advance how the melange of factors stated by the Texas court would emerge from the mixing machine of the Texas authorities who would deal with the problem. It is clear that the extreme imbalance now prevailing would be eliminated, because the Texas Supreme Court has held it unconstitutional. It might be
The Court, however, now plunges to adjudication of the case of Midland County, Texas, in midstream, apparently because it rejects any result that might emerge which deviates from the literal thrust of one man, one vote. Since it now adopts this simplistic approach, apparently the majority believes that it might as well say so and save Texas the labor of devising an answer.
I am in fundamental disagreement. I believe, as I shall discuss, that in the circumstances of this case equal protection of the laws may be achieved—and perhaps can only be achieved—by a system which takes into account a complex of values and factors, and not merely the arithmetic simplicity of one equals one. Dusch and Sailors were wisely and prudently decided. They reflect a reasoned, conservative, empirical approach to the intricate problem of applying constitutional principle to the complexities of local government. I know of no reason why we now abandon this reasonable and moderate approach to the problem of local suffrage and adopt an absolute and inflexible formula which is potentially destructive of important political and social values. There is no reason why we should insist that there is and can be only one rule for voters in local governmental units— that districts for units of local government must be drawn solely on the basis of population. I believe there are powerful reasons why, while insisting upon reasonable regard for the population-suffrage ratio, we should reject a rigid, theoretical, and authoritarian approach to the
Constitutional commandments are not surgical instruments. They have a tendency to hack deeply—to amputate. And while I have no doubt that, with the growth of suburbia and exurbia, the problem of allocating local government functions and benefits urgently requires attention, I am persuaded that it does not call for the hatchet of one man, one vote. It is our duty to insist upon due regard for the value of the individual vote but not to ignore realities or to bypass the alternatives that legislative alternation might provide.
I agree that application of the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, decreed by this Court in the case of state legislatures, cannot stop at that point. Of course local governmental units are subject to the commands of the Equal Protection Clause. Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U.S. 1, 17 (1958). That much is easy. The difficult question, and the one which the Court slights, is: What does the Equal Protection Clause demand with regard to local governmental units?
Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533 (1964), stands for the general proposition that the debasement of the right to vote through malapportionment is offensive to the Equal Protection Clause. It holds that where the allegedly debased vote relates to the State Legislature, a judicial remedy is available to adjudicate a claim of such debasement, and that, subject to some permissible deviation, the remedy is to require reapportionment on a population basis. Although the Court's opinion carefully emphasizes the appropriateness of allowing latitude to meet local and special conditions, 377 U. S., at 577-581, its insistence
This rule is appropriate to the selection of members of a State Legislature. The people of a State are similarly affected by the action of the State Legislature. Its functions are comprehensive and pervasive. They are not specially concentrated upon the needs of particular parts of the State or any separate group of citizens. As the Court in Reynolds said, each citizen stands in "the same relation" to the State Legislature. Accordingly, variations from substantial population equality in elections for the State Legislature take away from the individual voter the equality which the Constitution mandates. They amount to a debasement of the citizen's vote and of his citizenship.
But the same cannot be said of all local governmental units, and certainly not of the unit involved in this case.
In my judgment, the Court departs from Reynolds when it holds, broadly and generally, that "the Fourteenth Amendment . . . forbids the election of local government officials from districts of disparate population." Ante, at 478. This holding, literally applied as the Court commands, completely ignores the complexities of local government in the United States—complexities which, Reynolds itself states, demand latitude of prescription. The simplicity of the Court's ruling today does not comport with the lack of simplicity which characterizes the miscellany which constitutes our local governments.
As of the beginning of 1967, there were 81,253 units of local government in the United States. This figure includes 3,049 county governments, 18,051 municipal governments, 17,107 township governments, 21,782 school
The Court in this case concedes that in a "special purpose unit of government," the rights of certain constituents may be more affected than the rights of others. It implies that the one man, one vote rule may not apply in such cases. See ante, at 483-484. But it says that we do not here have to confront the implications of such a situation. I do not agree.
I submit that the problem presented by many, perhaps most, county governments (and by Midland County in particular) is precisely the same as those arising from special-purpose units. The functions of many county governing boards, no less than the governing bodies of special-purpose units, have only slight impact on some of their constituents and a vast and direct impact on others. They affect different citizens residing within their geographical jurisdictions in drastically different ways.
Study of county government leaves one with two clear impressions: that the variations from unit to unit are great; and that the role and structure of county government are currently in a state of flux.
Some generalizations can be made about county governments. First, most counties today perform certain basic functions delegated by the State: assessment of property, collection of property taxes, recording of deeds and other documents, maintenance of rural roads, poor relief, law enforcement, and the administration of electoral and judicial functions. Some counties have begun to do more, especially by the assumption of municipal and policy-making functions.
Second, "[t]he absence of a single chief executive and diffusion of responsibility among numerous independently elected officials are general characteristics of county
These generalizations apply with particular force in this case. The population of Midland County is chiefly in a single urban area.
For example, the petitioner cites Art. VIII, § 9, of the Texas Constitution and Article 2352 of the Texas Civil Statutes as granting the Commissioners Court authority to levy taxes. Yet, at the time this suit was tried, Art. VIII, § 9, provided that no county could levy a tax in excess of 80¢ on $100 property valuation. And Article 2352 allocated that 80¢ among the four "constitutional purposes" mentioned in Art. VIII, § 9 (not more than 25¢ for general county purposes, not more than 15¢ for the jury fund, not more than 15¢ for roads and bridges, and not more than 25¢ for permanent improvements).
Another example is the authority to issue bonds. It is true, as the majority notes, that the Commissioners Court does have this authority. Yet Title 22 of the Texas Civil Statutes sets up a detailed code concerning how and for what purposes bonds may be issued. Significantly, Article 701 provides that county bonds "shall never be issued for any purpose" unless the bond issue
More important than the statutory and constitutional limitations, the limited power and function of the Commissioners Court are reflected in what it actually does. The record and briefs do not give a complete picture of the workings of the Commissioners Court. But it is apparent that the Commissioners are primarily concerned with rural affairs, and more particularly with rural roads. One Commissioner testified below that the largest item in the county budget was for roads and bridges.
As the Texas Supreme Court stated:
Moreover, even with regard to those areas specifically delegated to the county government by statute or constitutional provision, the Commissioners Court sometimes
As the Texas Supreme Court stated, "the county commissioners court is not charged with the management and control of all of the county's business affairs . . . . [T]he various officials elected by all the voters of the county have spheres that are delegated to them by law and within which the commissioners court may not interfere or usurp." 406 S. W. 2d, at 428. These officials, elected on a direct, one man, one vote, countywide basis, include the Assessor and Collector of Taxes, the County Attorney, the Sheriff, the Treasurer, the County Clerk, and the County Surveyor.
In face of this, to hold that "no substantial variation" from equal population may be allowed under the Equal Protection Clause is to ignore the substance of the rights and powers involved. It denies—it does not implement —substantive equality of voting rights. It is like insisting that each stockholder of a corporation have only one vote even though the stake of some may be $1 and the stake of others $1,000. The Constitution does not force such a result. Equal protection of the laws is not served by it.
Despite the fact, as I have shown, that many governmental powers in the county are exercised by officials elected at large and that the powers of the Commissioners Court are limited, the Court insists that the Commissioners Court is a unit with "general governmental powers." This simply is not so except in the most superficial sense. The Court is impressed by the fact that the jurisdiction of the Commissioners Court extends
Substance, not shibboleth, should govern in this admittedly complex and subtle area; and the substance is that the geographical extent of the Commissioners Court is of very limited meaning. Midland County's Commissioners Court has its primary focus in nonurban areas and upon the nonurban people. True, the county's revenues come largely from the City of Midland. But the Commissioners Court fixes the tax rate subject to the specific limitations provided by the legislature. It must spend tax revenues in the categories and percentages which the legislature fixes. Taxes are assessed and collected, not by it, but by an official elected on a countywide basis. It is quite likely that if the city dwellers were given control of the Commissioners Court, they would reduce the load because it is spent primarily in the rural area. This is a state matter. If the State Legislature, in which presumably the city dwellers are fairly represented (Reynolds v. Sims), wishes to reduce the load, it may do so. But unless we are ready to adopt the position that the Federal Constitution forbids a State from taxing city dwellers to aid their rural neighbors, the fact that city dwellers pay most taxes should not determine the composition of the county governing body. We should not use tax impact as the sole or controlling basis for vote distribution. It is merely one in a number of factors, including the functional impact of the county government, which should be taken into account in determining whether a particular voting arrangement results in reasonable recognition of the rights and interests of citizens. Certainly, neither tax impact nor the relatively few services rendered within the City of Midland should compel the State to vest practically all voting power in the city residents to the
I have said that in my judgment we should not decide this case but should give Texas a chance to come up with an acceptable result. Texas' own courts hold that the present system is constitutionally intolerable. The 1963 population estimates relied upon in this case show that the district which includes most of the City of Midland with 67,906 people has one representative, and the three rural districts, each of which has its own representative, have 852; 414; and 828 people respectively. While it may be that this cannot be regarded as satisfying the Equal Protection Clause under any view, I suggest that applying the Court's formula merely errs in the opposite direction: Only the city population will be represented, and the rural areas will be eliminated from a voice in the county government to which they must look for essential services. With all respect, I submit that this is a destructive result. It kills the very value which it purports to serve. Texas should have a chance to devise a scheme which, within wide tolerance, eliminates the gross underrepresentation of the city, but at the same time provides an adequate, effective voice for the nonurban, as well as the urban, areas and peoples.
MR. JUSTICE STEWART, dissenting.
I would dismiss the writ as improvidently granted for the reasons stated by MR. JUSTICE HARLAN and MR. JUSTICE FORTAS.
Among the many federal court cases applying Reynolds v. Sims to local government are Hyden v. Baker, 286 F.Supp. 475 (D. C. M. D. Tenn. 1968); Martinolich v. Dean, 256 F.Supp. 612 (D. C. S. D. Miss. 1966); Strickland v. Burns, 256 F.Supp. 824 (D. C. M. D. Tenn. 1966); Ellis v. Mayor of Baltimore, 234 F.Supp. 945 (D. C. Md. 1964), affirmed and remanded, 352 F.2d 123 (C. A. 4th Cir. 1965).