Colegrove v. Green 328 U.S. 549 (1946)

Author:Ward E. Y. Elliott

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Colegrove v. Green and BAKER V. CARR (which all but overruled Colegrove in 1962) bracket the passage of the ONE PERSON, ONE VOTE movement from failure to success. Migration had drastically enlarged urban electoral districts and reduced rural ones in most states, but legislators and voters were slow to reapportion, and reapportionists turned to courts for relief. But courts were wary of tampering with legislators' seats.

The Supreme Court dismissed Colegrove's suit to enjoin Illinois congressional elections in "malapportioned" districts. The Justices gave two reasons: the case wanted EQUITY to make an INJUNCTION appropriate, and it presented a POLITICAL QUESTION reserved for decision of the elected branches both by constitutional mandate and by lack of judicially appropriate standards of judgment. "Courts," said Justice FELIX FRANKFURTER, "ought not to enter this political thicket." Three Justices dissented, arguing that the case did not lack equity, that the question was not political, and that constitutional mandate and standards could be found in Article I, section 2, and the EQUAL PROTECTION clause of the FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT?a debatable assertion little argued in either Colegrove or Baker. Justice WILEY RUTLEDGE, the tiebreaker, thought the question nonpolitical but joined in the vote for dismissal for want of equity.

Though the Court dismissed all REAPPORTIONMENT cases for sixteen years, citing Colegrove, Rutledge's discretionary rationale left room for the debate between Justices WILLIAM J. BRENNAN and Frankfurter in Baker, and for the intervention that led to the reapportionment revolution. The applicability of the equal protection clause to reapportionment was not seriously debated until REYNOLDS V. SIMS (1964) and OREGON V. MITCHELL (1970). Justices HUGO L. BLACK and JOHN MARSHALL HARLAN debated the applicability of Article I, section 2, in WESBERRY V. SANDERS (1964), which finally overruled Colegrove.



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