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Gomillion v. Lightfoot - Background, Supreme Court Reverses Decision, Redistricting

city petitioners american voting

Petitioners

C. G. Gomillion, et al.

Respondents

Lightfoot, Mayor of Tuskegee, et al.

Petitioners' Claim

That the state of Alabama re-created the Tuskegee City boundaries to eliminate most African American residents, preventing them from voting in city elections in violation of the Fifteenth Amendment.

Chief Lawyers for Petitioners

Fred D. Gray, Robert L. Carter

Chief Lawyer for Respondents

James J. Carter

Justices for the Court

Hugo Lafayette Black, William J. Brennan, Jr., Tom C. Clark, William O. Douglas, Felix Frankfurter (writing for the Court), John Marshall Harlan II, Potter Stewart, Earl Warren, Charles Evans Whittaker

Justices Dissenting

None

Place

Washington, D.C.

Date of Decision

14 November 1960

Decision

Ruling that African American residents had a right to prove in court that the redistricting act was unconstitutional, the Court reversed the two lower courts' dismissal of the complaint.

Significance

Prior to this ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court had been reluctant to interfere with the rights of states to establish political boundaries of their cities. This case, however, demonstrated that states cannot use that power to deprive citizens of their voting rights guaranteed by the Fifteenth Amendment.

Impact

This case marked a shift in the Supreme Court's involvement with political redistricting cases. In later cases, the Court ruled that redistricting be done according to population. Although gerrymandering--the process of re-drawing voting districts to an individual's or group's own advantage in elections--remained an issue after this case, it was determined to be unconstitutional when it clearly discriminated against a particular racial group.

Related Cases

  • Hunter v. City of Pittsburgh, 207 U.S. 161 (1907).
  • Colegrove v. Green, 328 U.S. 549 (1946).
  • Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186 (1962).
  • Beer v. United States, 425 U.S. 130 (1976).
  • Shaw v. Reno, 509 U.S. 630 (1993).

Sources

"An Overview of House Reapportionment during the 1990s." http://www.lpitr.state.sc.us/reports/97reapp.htm.

Dictionary of American History, Volume 2. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1976.

Further Readings

  • Blumberg, Rhoda L. Civil Rights: The 1960s Freedom Struggle. Boston: G. K. Hall & Co., 1984.
  • Cushman, Robert F., and Susan P. Loniak. Cases in Constitutional Law, 7th ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1989.
  • Lieberman, Jethro K. The Evolving Constitution: How the Supreme Court Has Ruled on Issues from Abortion to Zoning. New York: Random House, 1992.
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