Redistricting Home
Introduction Pre-1950 The 1950s The 1960s The 1970s The 1980s The 1990s 2000 and Beyond
The 1960s: 1962

Court Orders and Failed Initiatives

In March of 1962, the United States Supreme Court ruled in the case of Baker v. Carr that legislative and congressional malapportionment is unconstitutional. This historic ruling, which Chief Justice Earl Warren later called the "most vital decision" made by the Court during his tenure, paved the way for a series of cases that ultimately changed the nature of voting and representation in the United States. In fact, the notion of "one person, one vote," which seems so fundamental a component of American civil liberties, was not firmly established until the 1960s courtroom battles over redistricting that began with Baker v. Carr. The ruling also established that the judiciary as well as state legislatures could and should be involved in redistricting.

This new precedent was tested in Washington in December 1962, when the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington heard the case of Thigpen v. Meyers. James Thigpen, a registered voter, sought judicial assistance in ensuring proportionate legislative redistricting in the state. As the defendant, Washington's Secretary of State argued that there were "insufficient facts" for the judiciary to become involved, but the precedent set by Baker v. Carr clearly put redistricting within the scope of the District Court. The Court ruled in Thigpen v. Meyers that Washington's legislative districts were invidiously discriminatory, but first gave the 1963 Legislature a chance to rectify the problem. "Believing, as we do, that redistricting should be accomplished by the body constitutionally responsible therefore, and the sins of the fathers should not be visited upon the sons," the justices wrote, "we are deferring final action to afford it the opportunity of discharging its constitutional mandate" (211 Federal Supplement 826). The Court would wait and see what the Washington Legislature decided.

In the midst of these court cases, the state also had a redistricting initiative on the November ballot, sponsored by the League of Women Voters. Initiative 211 lost by about 45,000 votes. Thus, as 1962 drew to a close, not only was Washington still without a redistricting plan, but members of the 1963 Legislature would convene with the courts watching over them.


Oral History
McCurdy Manuscript
Court Cases
1960s 1963