Wesberry v. Sanders

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Wesberry v. Sanders
Seal of the United States Supreme Court
Argued November 18, 1963
Decided February 17, 1964
Full case nameJames P. Wesberry, Jr. et al. v. Carl E. Sanders et al.
Citations376 U.S. 1 (more)
84 S. Ct. 526; 11 L. Ed. 2d 481
Case history
PriorWesberry v. Vandiver, 206 F. Supp. 276 (N.D. Ga. 1962), prob. juris. noted, 374 U.S. 802 (1963).
The Constitution requires that members of the House of Representatives be selected by districts composed, as nearly as is practicable, of equal population.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Earl Warren
Associate Justices
Hugo Black · William O. Douglas
Tom C. Clark · John M. Harlan II
William J. Brennan Jr. · Potter Stewart
Byron White · Arthur Goldberg
Case opinions
MajorityBlack, joined by Warren, Douglas, Brennan, White, Goldberg
Laws applied
U.S. Const., art. I, § 2.
This case overturned a previous ruling or rulings
Colegrove v. Green, 328 U.S. 549 (1946)

Wesberry v. Sanders, 376 U.S. 1 (1964), was a U.S. Supreme Court case involving U.S. Congressional districts in the state of Georgia. The Court issued its ruling on February 17, 1964.[1] This decision requires each state to draw its U.S. Congressional districts so that they are approximately equal in population.

Nationally, this decision effectively reduced the representation of rural districts in the U.S. Congress. Particularly, the Court held that the population differences among Georgia's congressional districts were so great as to violate the Constitution.

In reaching this landmark decision, the Supreme Court asserted that Article I, Section 2 of the United States Constitution requires that representatives shall be chosen "by the People of the several States" and shall be "apportioned among the several States...according to their respective Numbers...." These words, the Court held, mean that "as nearly as practicable one man's vote in a congressional election is to be worth as much as another's."

Wesberry and the Court's later "one person, one vote" decisions had an extraordinary impact on the makeup of the House, on the content of public policy, and on electoral politics in general. However, these "one person, one vote" rules do not prevent and have not prevented gerrymandering.

A related case, Reynolds v. Sims,[2] held that seats in both houses of a bicameral state legislature must also, to satisfy the Equal Protection Clause, represent districts as equal in population as practicably possible. The federal Senate was unaffected since the Constitution explicitly grants each state two senators (a rule which is explicitly reiterated in the Seventeenth Amendment to the United States Constitution).


Writing for the Court majority in Wesberry, Justice Black argued that a reading of the debates of the Constitutional Convention demonstrated conclusively that the Framers had meant, in using the phrase “by the People,” to guarantee equality of representation in the election of Members of the House of Representatives.[3]

Writing in dissent, Justice Harlan argued that the statements cited by Justice Black had uniformly been in the context of the Great Compromise. Justice Harlan further argued that the Convention debates were clear to the effect that Article I, § 4, had vested exclusive control over state districting practices in Congress and that the Court action overrode a congressional decision not to require equally populated districts.[3]


In a 2012 law review article, George Mason University Law School professor Nelson Lund has aggressively criticized Justice Black's majority opinion in Wesberry and vehemently praised Justice Harlan's dissent in Wesberry.[4] Specifically, in this article, Lund said that "Harlan demolished every one of Black’s arguments and exposed every piece of Black’s textual and historical evidence as fraudulent."[4]

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]

  • Carpenter, Richard V. (1964), "Wesberry v. Sanders: A Case of Oversimplification", Villanova Law Review, 9: 415.
  • Weiss, Jonathan (1964), "An Analysis of Wesberry v. Sanders", Southern California Law Review, 8: 67.

External links[edit]