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Gomillion v. Lightfoot

Background

Although the Fifteenth Amendment prohibited voter discrimination based on race, southern states at the time of this case often had requirements that made it more difficult for blacks to vote. In Alabama they were required to pass literacy tests and present character witnesses from whites. In 1957 the state legislature, at the request of Tuskegee officials, passed a law that changed the Tuskegee City boundaries from a square into an irregular shape with 28 sides. This redistricting put all but four or five of the black residents outside the city limits but kept the white voting population intact. Believing that the purpose of this law was to favor white leaders by excluding African Americans from city elections, black residents sued the mayor and city officials in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama. There they argued that the redistricting deprived them of due process and equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment and violated the Fifteenth Amendment ensuring their right to vote regardless of race.

The city urged the court to dismiss the case, citing precedence that gave authority for political boundary-setting solely to state legislatures. The court agreed that it had no power in such cases and dismissed the complaint. When African American citizens appealed, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld the dismissal. Their case then went to the U.S. Supreme Court, where it was argued in October of 1960.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1954 to 1962Gomillion v. Lightfoot - Background, Supreme Court Reverses Decision, Redistricting