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The 1960s: 1964

Court Orders Redistricting Changes

The Legislature did not meet in 1964 and there were no reapportionment initiatives, but redistricting activity continued. In February 1964, at the request of Washington's Secretary of State, the United States Supreme Court suspended the U.S. District Court's Thigpen v. Meyers ruling and restored Washington's legislative districts until it made its own decision in the case. In the following June, a majority of the Justices rejected Washington's appeal. The decision upheld the original ruling by the District Court stating that Washington's legislative districts were "invidiously discriminatory."

Meanwhile, other Supreme Court decisions further solidified redistricting guidelines. Although the watershed case was Baker v. Carr in 1962, a series of 1964 cases more specifically defined the basic ground rules for redistricting. In Reynolds v. Sims, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that both houses of a state legislature must be apportioned according to population, while Wesberry v. Sanders further established the precedent of "one person, one vote." The courts made it clear that the time had come for legislatures to change the way they apportioned their states.

How did the Washington Legislature fit into this quiet revolution sweeping the nation? After the Supreme Court upheld the District Court's ruling in Thigpen v. Meyers, the lower court granted a temporary stay so that Washington's legislative districts would be considered legal. Candidates for the state legislature in 1964 could file for office in existing districts. But the District Court further mandated that the Legislature finish redistricting by the close of the 1965 legislative session—and before they attended to any other business, including passage of the state's budget.

The Court demanded a speedy solution to the redistricting roadblock, but the order did not guarantee that one would be found. Weary legislators also wanted to establish a redistricting plan as quickly as possible, but knew it had to be acceptable to elected officials as well as the voters. A more difficult position is hard to imagine.


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