Utah and the Irony of "One Person, One Vote"
|United States Supreme Court|
Prior to the 1964 Supreme Court case Reynolds v Sims, the state of Utah, as well as many other states, had a bicameral legislature whose voting membership was apportioned very similarly to the United States Congress.
In order that smaller states had a more equal voice in Congress, the United States Constitution specified that
- Every state would have at least one member of the House of Representatives
- Every state would have exactly two senators
Utah's Constitution originally did something very similar. Each county in Utah was guaranteed one Senator and at least one Representative in the State legislature.
Many other states had similar constitutional provisions--until the United States Supreme Court intervened.
In Reynolds v. Sims (1964), the Supreme Court ruled that the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires that legislative districts across states be equal in population. The case began in 1962, when the Supreme Court ruled that it had authority to review cases brought by individuals harmed by legislative apportionment or redistricting.
Some states, such as Alabama, had clearly disenfranchised voters by not reapportioning representation since the year 1900, wherein 6 or 7 censuses had clearly indicated that population had shifted markedly toward the larger cities. Utah had experienced no such problems, however. Using this pretext, however, the Supreme Court decreed in 1964 that state representation had to comply with their recently invented "one person, one vote" doctrine.
Even more ironically, just the year before, in the Court's Gray v Sanders case, where "one person, one vote" was formulated, the Court declared that its new requirement did not apply to all the states, but only to Georgia, whose "County Unit System" dictated that state officers would be elected not by popular vote but by a winner-take-all tally system.
Nonetheless, Reynolds v Sims struck down that part of the Utah Constitution that structured representation in the Utah Legislature nearly identically to the way it is still done in the United States Congress.
That was--and still is--a travesty. In an effort to ensure more equal representation, the Constitution gives states with smaller populations an equal voice in the Senate. In a similarly healthy way, the Utah Constitution gave counties with smaller populations an equal voice in the Utah Senate.
By an 8-1 decision of an arbitrary Court in 1964, that fairness was struck down. Now, the laws for the entire state of Utah, including its far flung rural reaches, are largely determined by the people who live in Salt Lake City.
How fair is that? Not very. How much sense did the Reynolds decision make with regard to Utah? None.