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decided: June 7, 1971.



Marshall, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Burger, C. J., and Black, White, and Blackmun, JJ., joined. Harlan, J., filed a statement concurring in the result. Stewart, J., concurred in the judgment. Brennan, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Douglas, J., joined, post, p. 187.

Author: Marshall

[ 403 U.S. Page 183]

 MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this case, petitioners challenge the constitutionality of a reapportionment plan proposed in response to both federal and state court findings of malapportionment in Rockland County, New York. The Court of Appeals of the State of New York upheld the plan. We affirm.

For more than 100 years, Rockland County was governed by a board of supervisors consisting of the supervisors of each of the county's five constituent towns. This county legislature was not separately elected; rather, its members held their county offices by virtue of their election as town supervisors -- a pattern that typified New York county government. The result has been a local structure in which overlapping public services are provided by the towns and their county working in close cooperation. For example, in Rockland County the towns adopt their own budgets and submit them to the county which levies taxes. These taxes are based on real property assessments established by the towns but equalized by the county board. Similarly, public services such as waste disposal and snow removal are provided through cooperative efforts among the municipalities. There is no indication that these joint efforts have declined in importance; in fact, respondents strenuously urge that the county's rapidly expanding population has amplified the need for town and county coordination in the future.

The county's increased population also produced severe malapportionment -- so severe that, in 1966, a federal district court required that the county board submit a reapportionment plan to the Rockland County voters, Lodico v. Board of Supervisors, 256 F.Supp. 440 (SDNY). Pursuant to that order, three different plans were devised and submitted to the electorate; but each was rejected at the polls. The present action was brought in 1968 to compel the board to reapportion. After its

[ 403 U.S. Page 184]

     initial proposal was rejected by the New York courts, the board submitted the plan that is the subject of this decision.

The challenged plan, based on 1969 population figures, provides for a county legislature composed of 18 members chosen from five legislative districts. These districts exactly correspond to the county's five constituent towns. Each district is assigned its legislators according to the district's population in relation to the population of the smallest town, Stony Point. Stony Point has a population of 12,114 and is assigned one representative in the county legislature. The number of representatives granted the other districts is determined by dividing the population of each by the population of the smallest town. Fractional results of the computation are rounded to the nearest integer, and this need to round off "fractional representatives" produces some variations among districts in terms of population per legislator. Under 1969 population figures, the Orangetown district is the most "underrepresented" (7.1%); while Clarkstown is the most "overrepresented" (4.8%). Thus, the plan presently produces a total deviation from population equality of 11.9%.*fn1 Petitioners attack these deviations as unconstitutional.*fn2

[ 403 U.S. Page 185]

     It is well established that electoral apportionment must be based on the general principle of population equality and that this principle applies to state and local elections, Avery v. Midland County, 390 U.S. 474, 481 (1968). "Mathematical exactness or precision is hardly a workable constitutional requirement," Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533, 577 (1964), but deviations from population equality must be justified by legitimate state considerations, Swann v. Adams, 385 U.S. 440, 444 (1967). Because voting rights require highly sensitive safeguards, this Court has carefully scrutinized state interests offered to justify deviations from population equality.

In assessing the constitutionality of various apportionment plans, we have observed that viable local governments may need considerable flexibility in municipal arrangements if they are to meet changing societal needs, Sailors v. Board of Education, 387 U.S. 105, 110-111 (1967), and that a desire to preserve the integrity of political subdivisions may justify an apportionment plan which departs from numerical equality. Reynolds v. Sims, supra, at 578. These observations, along with the facts that local legislative bodies frequently have fewer representatives than do their state and national counterparts and that some local legislative districts may have a much smaller population than do congressional and state legislative districts, lend support to the argument that slightly greater percentage deviations may be tolerable for local government apportionment schemes, cf. ibid. Of course, this Court has never suggested that certain geographic areas or ...

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