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ROMAN v. SINCOCK ET AL.

June 15, 1964

ROMAN, CLERK OF THE PEACE, ET AL
v.
SINCOCK ET AL.



APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF DELAWARE

Warren, Black, Douglas, Clark, Harlan, Brennan, Stewart, White, Goldberg

Author: Warren

[ 377 U.S. Page 697]

 MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WARREN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Presented for decision in this case is the constitutional validity, under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution, of the apportionment of seats in the Delaware General Assembly.

I.

Shortly after this Court's decision in Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, plaintiffs below, residents, taxpayers and qualified voters of New Castle County, Delaware, filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Delaware, in their own behalf and on behalf of all persons similarly situated, challenging the apportionment of the Delaware Legislature. Defendants, sued in their representative capacities, were various officials charged with the performance of certain duties in connection with state elections. The complaint alleged deprivation of rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and asserted that the District Court had jurisdiction under the Fourteenth Amendment, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988, and 28 U.S.C. §§ 1343 and 2201.

Plaintiffs below alleged that the apportionment of seats in the Delaware Legislature resulted in an "invidious discrimination as to the inhabitants of New Castle County and the City of Wilmington," operated to deny them the right to cast votes for Delaware legislators "that are of equal effect with that of every other citizen of the State of Delaware," and was arbitrary and capricious in failing to provide a reasonable classification of those voting for

[ 377 U.S. Page 698]

     members of the Delaware General Assembly.*fn1 Plaintiffs also asserted that they were without any other adequate remedy since the existing legislative apportionment was frozen into the 1897 Delaware Constitution; that the present legislature was dominated by legislators representing the two less populous counties; that it was, as a practical matter, impossible to amend the State Constitution or convene a constitutional convention for the purpose of reapportioning the General Assembly; and that the Delaware Legislature had consistently failed to take appropriate action with respect to reapportionment.

Plaintiffs below sought a declaration that Art. II, § 2, of the Delaware Constitution, which established the apportionment of seats in both houses of the Delaware Legislature, is unconstitutional, and an injunction against defendants to prevent the holding of any further elections under the existing apportionment scheme. Plaintiffs also requested that the District Court either reapportion the Delaware Legislature on a population basis or, alternatively, direct that the November 1962 general election be conducted on an at-large basis. A three-judge District Court was asked for by plaintiffs, and was promptly convened.

On July 25, 1962, the District Court entered an order staying the proceedings until August 7, 1962, in order to permit the Delaware Legislature to take "some appropriate action." 207 F. Supp. 205. The court noted that, since publication of any proposed constitutional amendment at least three months prior to the next general election was required under Delaware law,*fn2 it would serve no useful purpose to grant a stay beyond August 7, 1962.

[ 377 U.S. Page 699]

     On July 30, 1962, the General Assembly approved a proposed amendment to the legislative apportionment provisions of the Delaware Constitution,*fn3 based upon recommendations of a bipartisan reapportionment committee appointed by the Delaware Governor. Under Delaware law this amendment could not, however, become effective unless again approved during the next succeeding session of the General Assembly.*fn4

On August 7, 1962, the District Court entered an order refusing to dismiss the suit, and stated that, while it had no desire to substitute its judgment for the collective wisdom of the Delaware General Assembly in matters of legislative apportionment, it had no alternative but to proceed promptly in deciding the case. 210 F. Supp. 395. Some of the defendants applied for a further stay of proceedings so that the General Assembly coming into office in January 1963 would have an opportunity to approve the proposed constitutional amendment. On August 8, 1962, plaintiffs applied for a preliminary injunction against the conducting of the November 1962 general election under the existing apportionment provisions. Plaintiffs were thereafter permitted to amend their complaint to request that the proposed constitutional amendment also be declared unconstitutional and that the court order a provisional reapportionment of the Delaware Legislature.

On October 16, 1962, the District Court denied both the applications for a preliminary injunction and for a further stay. 210 F.Supp. 396. Denial of a preliminary

[ 377 U.S. Page 700]

     injunction effectively permitted the holding of the November 1962 general election pursuant to the legislative apportionment provisions of the 1897 Delaware Constitution. After extended pretrial proceedings, the court, on November 27, 1962, entered a pretrial order in which the parties agreed to the accuracy of a series of exhibits, statistics and various statistical computations. In early January 1963, the Delaware General Assembly, elected in November 1962, approved the proposed constitutional amendment by the requisite two-thirds vote. As a result, the amendment to the legislative apportionment provisions of Art. II, § 2, became effective on January 17, 1963, having been passed by two successive General Assemblies.*fn5 Trial before the District Court ensued, with the expert testimony of various political scientists being presented.

On April 17, 1963, the District Court, in an opinion by Circuit Judge Biggs, held that Art. II, § 2, of the Delaware Constitution, both before and after the 1963 amendment, resulted in gross and invidious discrimination against the plaintiffs and others similarly situated, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. 215 F. Supp. 169. Stating that "the fundamental issue presented for . . . adjudication is whether or not the apportioning of members of the General Assembly of the State of Delaware offends the electors of the State because of an alleged debasement of their voting rights," the court indicated that it would pass upon the constitutional validity of both the provisions of the 1897 Constitution and the provisions of the 1963 constitutional amendment. After considering in detail the ...


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