GRAY v. SANDERS

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
112
Appellant 
James H. Gray et al.
Appellee 
James O'Hear Sanders
Advocates
(for the appellants)
(for the appellants)
(for the appellee)
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Facts of the Case 

Since the beginning of the 20th century, the State of Georgia used a county unit system for counting votes in primary elections. Under this system, the candidate who received the highest number of votes in a county would receive all of that county’s unit votes. The overall winning candidate would then have to receive a majority of the county unit votes statewide. This system ended up giving rural counties a majority of the unit votes, even though rural counties made up only about a third of the population as of the 1960s.

In 1962, James O’Hear Sanders, a voter in Georgia’s most populous county, brought suit against several representatives of the Georgia State Democratic Executive Committee and the Secretary of State of Georgia. Sanders claimed that the county unit system violated the Equal Protection Clause and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Seventeenth Amendment. As a voter within one of the urban counties, Sanders claimed his vote had less of an influence on the nomination of candidates than that of a rural voter. A special three-judge panel of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia agreed with Sanders and held that the county unit system violated the Equal Protection Clause. However, the district court did not outlaw the county unit system entirely. The State appealed directly to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Question 

Does the county unit voting system violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution?

Conclusion 
Decision: 8 votes for Sanders, 1 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Equal Protection

Yes. Justice William O. Douglas, in an 8-1 majority opinion, vacated the lower court’s judgment and remanded the case with directions. The Court held that the weighing of votes through the county unit system violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by giving more voting power to residents of particularly small rural counties. Unlike the district court, the majority held that the county unit system was impermissible in its entirety. The Court reasoned that the longstanding concept of political equality requires elections to be governed by the rule of “one person, one vote.” Justice John Marshall Harlan II dissented, arguing that the case should be sent back for trial to establish a fully developed record for the Court to review.

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GRAY v. SANDERS. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 20 December 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1960-1969/1962/1962_112>.
GRAY v. SANDERS, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1960-1969/1962/1962_112 (last visited December 20, 2014).
"GRAY v. SANDERS," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed December 20, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1960-1969/1962/1962_112.