Hadley v. Junior College District

397 U.S. 50

Case Year: 1970

Case Ruling: 5-3, Reversed and Remanded

Opinion Justice: 

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Concurring Opinions

Dissenting Opinions

Court Opinion Joiner(s):

Black, Brennan, Douglas, Marshall, White


1st Concurring Opinion



1st Dissenting Opinion

Author: Harlan

Joiner(s): Burger, Stewart

2nd Concurring Opinion



2nd Dissenting Opinion



3rd Concurring Opinion



3rd Dissenting Opinion



Other Concurring Opinions:


Under Missouri law, separate school districts were authorized to vote by referendum to establish a consolidated junior college district and to elect six governing trustees. State law stipulated that the trustees be apportioned among the separate school districts on the basis of "school enumeration," which was defined as the number of persons between the ages of six and twenty years who resided in each component school district. Pursuant to this law, eight separate school districts combined to form the Junior College District of Metropolitan Kansas City. The Kansas City School District elected three trustees to the six-person board, although it contained 60 percent of the junior college district's school age population. Della Hadley and other Kansas City residents filed suit, claiming underrepresentation. The Missouri Supreme Court dismissed the petitioners' Equal Protection argument on the grounds that the "one person, one vote" principle was not applicable to education boards such as this junior college district.



... In Wesberry v. Sanders (1964), we held that the Constitution requires that "as nearly as is practicable one man's vote in a congressional election is to be worth as much as another's."... Because of this requirement we struck down a Georgia statute which allowed glaring discrepancies among the populations in that State's congressional districts. In Reynolds v. Sims (1964), and the companion cases, we considered state laws that had apportioned state legislatures in a way that again showed glaring discrepancies in the number of people who lived in different legislative districts. In an elaborate opinion inReynolds we called attention to prior cases indicating that a qualified voter has a constitutional right to vote in elections without having his vote wrongfully denied, debased, or diluted.... Applying the basic principle of Wesberry, we therefore held that the various state apportionment schemes denied some voters the right guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to have their votes given the same weight as that of other voters. Finally, in Avery v. Midland County (1968), we applied this same principle to the election of Texas county commissioners, holding that a qualified voter in a local election also has a constitutional right to have his vote counted with substantially the same weight as that of any other voter in a case where the elected officials exercised "general governmental powers over the entire geographic area served by the body."...

Appellants in this case argue that the junior college trustees exercised general governmental powers over the entire district and that under Avery the State was thus required to apportion the trustees according to population on an equal basis, as far as practicable. Appellants argue that since the trustees can levy and collect taxes, issue bonds with certain restrictions, hire and fire teachers, make contracts, collect fees, supervise and discipline students, pass on petitions to annex school districts, acquire property by condemnation, and in general manage the operations of the junior college, their powers are equivalent, for apportionment purposes, to those exercised by the county commissioners in Avery. We feel that these powers, while not fully as broad as those of the Midland County Commissioners, certainly show that the trustees perform important governmental functions within the districts, and we think these powers are general enough and have sufficient impact throughout the district to justify the conclusion that the principle which we applied in Avery should also be applied here.

This Court has consistently held in a long series of cases, that in situations involving elections, the States are required to insure that each person's vote counts as much, insofar as it is practicable, as any other person's. We have applied this principle in congressional elections, state legislative elections, and local elections. The consistent theme of those decisions is that the right to vote in an election is protected by the United States Constitution against dilution or debasement. While the particular offices involved in these cases have varied, in each case a constant factor is the decision of the government to have citizens participate individually by ballot in the selection of certain people who carry out governmental functions. Thus in the case now before us, while the office of junior college trustee differs in certain respects from those offices considered in prior cases, it is exactly the same in the one crucial factor--these officials are elected by popular vote.

When a court is asked to decide whether a State is required by the Constitution to give each qualified voter the same power in an election open to all, there is no discernible, valid reason why constitutional distinctions should be drawn on the basis of the purpose of the election. If one person's vote is given less weight through unequal apportionment, his right to equal voting participation is impaired just as much when he votes for a school board member as when he votes for a state legislator. While there are differences in the powers of different officials, the crucial consideration is the right of each qualified voter to participate on an equal footing in the election process. It should be remembered that in cases like this one we are asked by voters to insure that they are given equal treatment, and from their perspective the harm from unequal treatment is the same in any election, regardless of the officials selected.

If the purpose of a particular election were to be the determining factor in deciding whether voters are entitled to equal voting power, courts would be faced with the difficult job of distinguishing between various elections. We cannot readily perceive judicially manageable standards to aid in such a task. It might be suggested that equal apportionment is required only in "important" elections, but good judgment and common sense tell us that what might be a vital election to one voter might well be a routine one to another. In some instances the election of a local sheriff may be far more important than the election of a United States Senator. If there is any way of determining the importance of choosing a particular governmental official, we think the decision of the State to select that official by popular vote is a strong enough indication that the choice is an important one. This is so because in our country popular election has traditionally been the method followed when government by the people is most desired.

It has also been urged that we distinguish for apportionment purposes between elections for "legislative" officials and those for "administrative" officers. Such a suggestion would leave courts with an equally unmanageable principle since governmental activities "cannot easily be classified in the neat categories favored by civics texts," Avery, and it must also be rejected. We therefore hold today that as a general rule, whenever a state or local government decides to select persons by popular election to perform governmental functions, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires that each qualified voter must be given an equal opportunity to participate in that election, and when members of an elected body are chosen from separate districts, each district must be established on a basis that will insure, as far as is practicable, that equal numbers of voters can vote for proportionally equal numbers of officials. It is of course possible that there might be some case in which a State elects certain functionaries whose duties are so far removed from normal governmental activities and so disproportionately affect different groups that a popular election in compliance withReynolds might not be required, but certainly we see nothing in the present case that indicates that the activities of these trustees fit in that category. Education has traditionally been a vital governmental function, and these trustees, whose election the State has opened to all qualified voters, are governmental officials in every relevant sense of that term.

In this particular case the "one man, one vote" principle is to some extent already reflected in the Missouri statute. That act provides that if no one or more of the component school districts has 33 1/3% or more of the total enumeration of the junior college district, then all six trustees are elected at large. If, however, one or more districts has between 33 1/3% and 50% of the total enumeration, each such district elects two trustees and the rest are elected at large from the remaining districts. Similarly, if one district has between 50% and 66 2/3% of the enumeration it elects three trustees, and if one district has more than 66 2/3% it elects four trustees. This scheme thus allocates increasingly more trustees to large districts as they represent an increasing proportion of the total enumeration.

Although the statutory scheme reflects to some extent a principle of equal voting power, it does so in a way that does not comport with constitutional requirements. This is so because the Act necessarily results in a systematic discrimination against voters in the more populous school districts. This discrimination occurs because whenever a large district's percentage of the total enumeration falls within a certain percentage range it is always allocated the number of trustees corresponding to the bottom of that range. Unless a particular large district has exactly 33 1/3%, 50% or 66 2/3% of the total enumeration it will always have proportionally fewer trustees than the small districts. As has been pointed out, in the case of the Kansas City School District approximately 60% of the total enumeration entitles that district to only 50% of the trustees. Thus while voters in large school districts may frequently have less effective voting power than residents of small districts, they can never have more. Such built-in discrimination against voters in large districts cannot be sustained as a sufficient compliance with the constitutional mandate that each person's vote count as much as another's as far as practicable. Consequently Missouri cannot allocate the junior college trustees according to the statutory formula employed in this case. We would be faced with a different question if the deviation from equal apportionment presented in this case resulted from a plan that did not contain a built-in bias in favor of small districts, but rather from the inherent mathematical complications in equally apportioning a small number of trustees among a limited number of component districts. We have said before that mathematical exactitude is not required, Wesberry, Reynolds, but a plan that does not automatically discriminate in favor of certain districts is....

For the reasons set forth above the judgment below is reversed and the case is remanded to the Missouri Supreme Court for proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

Reversed and remanded.


Today's decision demonstrates, to a degree that no other case has, the pervasiveness of the federal judicial intrusion into state electoral processes that was unleashed by the "one man, one vote" rule of Reynolds v. Sims (1964)....

The facts of this case afford a clear indication of the extent to which reasonable state objectives are to be sacrificed on the alter of numerical equality. We are not faced with an apportionment scheme that is a historical relic, with no present-day justification, or one that reflects the stranglehold of a particular group that, having once attained power, blindly resists a redistribution. The structure of the Junior College District of Metropolitan Kansas City is based upon a state statute enacted in 1961. Prior to that date, the individual school boards had the power to create their own junior colleges, as they still do, but there was apparently no authorization for cooperation among districts. The 1961 statute was enacted out of concern on the part of the legislature that Missouri's public educational facilities were not expanding at a satisfactory rate.... The provisions of the statute evidence a legislative determination of the most effective means to encourage expansion through cooperation between districts.

The statutory provision for election of the six-man board of trustees, summarized by the Court, reflects a careful balancing of the desirability of population-based representation against the practical problems involved in the creation of new educational units. The statute does not by its own force create any junior college districts; this is left to the initiative of the residents of particular areas who are interested in providing public junior-college education for their children. In recognition of the fact that individual school districts may lack the funds or the population to support a junior college of their own, the state legislature has authorized them to make voluntary arrangements with their neighbors for joint formation of a junior college district. If one of the cooperating school districts greatly preponderates in size, it enters into the arrangement knowing that its representation on the board of trustees, while large, will be somewhat smaller than it would be if based strictly on relative school enumeration.

The features of this system are surely sensibly designed to facilitate creation of new educational bodies while guaranteeing to small school districts that they will not be entirely swallowed up by a large partner. The small districts are free to avoid alliance with a highly populated neighbor, if they prefer to link with enough others of their own size to provide a viable base for a junior college. At the same time, a very large school district is probably capable of forming a junior college on its own if it prefers not to consolidate, on the terms set by statute, with smaller neighbors. On the other hand, large and small districts may work together if they find this the most beneficial arrangement. The participation, as here, of seven smaller and one larger school district in the joint formation of a junior college district, represents a pragmatic choice by all concerned from among a number of possible courses of action.

I find it bizarre to conclude that such a voluntary arrangement effects an unconstitutional "dilution" of the votes of residents of the largest school district. When the Court, in Reynolds, rejected a proposed analogy between state legislatures and the Federal Congress, it relied heavily on the fact that state legislative districts "are merely involuntary political units of the State created by statute to aid in the administration of state government."... In contrast, the National Government was created by the union of "a group of formerly independent States." The system of representation in Congress was "conceived out of compromise and concession" between the larger and smaller States.... The system struck down today shares much of this same character of voluntary compromise. It is true that the analogy would be even closer if the legislature had left the school districts free to negotiate their own apportionment terms, rather than imposing a uniform scale; but as I read the Court's opinion today, it would strike down the apportionment in this case even if the terms had resulted from an entirely free agreement among the eight school districts. Insistence upon a simplistic mathematical formula as the measure of compliance with the Equal Protection Clause in cases involving the electoral process has resulted in this instance in a total disregard of the salutary purposes underlying the statutory scheme....

I would affirm the judgment of the Supreme Court of Missouri. What our Court has done today seems to me to run far afield of the values embodied in the scheme of government ordained by the Constitution.