Yancey v. Faubus

Yancey v. Faubus 238 F. Supp. 290 (1965) was a legal case involving legislative reapportionment in Arkansas in the aftermath of decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court that not only established the principle of “one person, one vote,” but also determined that, by virtue of the Fourteenth Amendment, that principle was applicable to the apportionment for representation in the state legislatures as well.

The challenge to the apportionment process in Arkansas originated in a suit filed by John Yancey on July 15, 1964, exactly one month after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its ruling in Reynolds v. Sims 377 U.S. 533 (1964). Yancey, a registered voter in Pulaski County, filed suit against Governor Orval Faubus, Secretary of State Kelly Bryant, and Attorney General Bruce Bennett—the individuals who comprised the Board of Apportionment as created by section 1 of Amendment 45 of the 1874 Arkansas Constitution—charging that both houses of the Arkansas legislature were in violation of the apportionment requirement the Supreme Court had established in Reynolds v. Sims. The case was heard by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas. Given the apportionment requirement that the Supreme Court had established in Reynolds v. Sims, the court found for Yancey, ruling that the apportionment upon which the state legislature was based was unconstitutional.

The case moved quickly through the judicial process. In the immediate aftermath of the filing of the suit, a motion was filed seeking to have the federal litigation postponed pending resolution of litigation relating to the reapportionment that was being planned for the state courts. However, given factors such as the nature of the issue, the acknowledgement of all parties that there was clear federal jurisdiction, and the reality of the Supreme Court’s rulings, the federal court determined that there was nothing to be gained by delaying consideration of the fundamental federal question of “whether the existing scheme of apportionment and the existing apportionment of the membership of the Arkansas Legislature [were] constitutionally valid.” Consequently, the motion was denied.

After dispatching that issue, the Court then undertook a comprehensive review of the way the apportionment process had evolved in Arkansas through constitutional amendments, litigation, and legislation. Providing much historical background and context, the Court offered a clear picture of procedures prior to the enactment in 1956 of Amendment 45, which was at the heart of the case before the Court. It explained that periodic reapportionment had been a constitutional requirement since the state’s earliest days but noted too that, over the years, the procedures had frequently been changed in the courts and were the source of no small amount of controversy and large amounts of litigation. The Court offered both an impressive historical survey as well as a detailed statistical analysis of the resulting districts. In the end, the Court found that the existing state process resulted in apportionment and resulting representation in both the state House of Representatives and the state Senate that represented a major violation of the rules and guidelines established by the Court in Reynolds v. Sims.

After establishing that the existing apportionment was unconstitutional, the Court then turned its attention to the question of whether it needed to grant some form of relief, leaving the next step to the state courts. But the Appeals Court determined that, given the importance of the matter, as well as the timeliness of the required changes (a new election based on redrawn district lines would be held in 1966), the Board of Apportionment had to come up with a “valid scheme of reapportionment” by June 15, 1965. In handing down this directive, the Court noted that its order was in no way intended to preclude action by the state legislature that was in session at that time. Recognizing its right and authority to act on the issue of reapportionment, the Court made clear its willingness to defer to the legislature so long as an appropriate, constitutionally satisfactory result was achieved.

In fact, the Board of Apportionment produced a new legislative map in advance of the June 15, 1965, deadline, but it was quickly challenged in the Court, in large part because it included some multi-member districts in the Senate. However, the challenge was turned aside, with the Court ruling that not only was the new apportionment an appropriate population-based response to its previous ruling, but that having one multi-member body of a two-house legislature was wholly in line with the Reynolds v. Sims ruling, violating neither the letter nor the spirit of the Court’s decision. With that ruling, Arkansas was able to conduct the 1966 elections according to the newly designed, constitutionally acceptable districts.

For additional information:
“The Case for District Court Management of the Reapportionment Process.” University of Pennsylvania Law Review 114 (February 1966): 504–529.

“Legislative Reapportionment: The Scope of Judicial Relief.” Duke Law Journal 1965 (Autumn 1965): 563–595. Online at http://scholarship.law.duke.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1987&context=dlj (accessed October 18, 2021).

Yancey v. Faubus 238 F. Supp. 290 (1965). Leagle.com. http://www.leagle.com/decision/1965528238FSupp290_1462 (accessed October 18, 2021).

Yancey v. Faubus 251 F. Supp. 998 (1965). Leagle.com. http://www.leagle.com/decision/19651249251FSupp998_11084 (accessed October 18, 2021).

William H. Pruden III
Ravenscroft School


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