The Atlantic Report on the World Today: Washington

on the World Today

A FAVORITE complaint of American conservalives, including those who call themselves States’ Righters, is that too many cities try to pass their problems on to Washington. That the cities have indeed turned more and more to the federal government is certainly true, and the trend has accelerated in the years since World War II. More recently, the new suburban areas have been leaders in the chorus for such federal money as would be provided in the Kennedy proposal for aid to education.

Perhaps the central reason for this tendency is less a “Let Uncle Sam do it” philosophy or a weakening of moral fiber back home than a frustration at the inability of the cities, and now the suburbs, to get help from their own state capitals. And the principal reason is the malapportionment in the great bulk of the nation’s fifty state legislatures. Here the urban majorities are so underrepresented that they can pry from state legislatures controlled by the rural minorities only the minimum of help in meeting a vast array of problems, ranging from schools to minimum wages and from highways to slum clearance.

The malapportionment in state legislatures — which, in turn, accounts in large part for an only slightly less malapportioncd federal House of Representatives — is now before the United States Supreme Court. Its decision, due sometime this winter, could turn out to be the most important document to come from the highest court since the 1954 ruling which outlawed racial segregation in the public schools. However the court rules, the decision will have a profound effect.

The case before the court was argued last spring and, on the court’s orders, again this fall. It arises from the fact that the Tennessee legislature has not voted to reapportion the seals in its two chambers, the Senate and House, since 1901, despite the fact that the state constitution says this shall be done at least every ten years. The result is that, by now, 37 per cent of the voting population controls 20 of the Senate’s 33 members, and a minority of 40 per cent of the voters select 63 of the 99 House members. This, said the Solicitor General of the United States, in supporting the outvoted voters who brought the court case, amounts to malapportionment which is “subverting responsible state and local government.”

Rural versus urban voting power

The case of Tennessee is glaring, but it is far from unique. A study by the University of Virginia’s Bureau of Public Administration, using the new 1960 census figures, reveals that “the voting power in big-city counties — those with more than 500,000 population — has been declining steadily for at least the last 50 years, while voting power in rural counties — those with fewer than 25,000 population — has been gaining.” Just how much this is true can be seen from these disparities:

In Pennsylvania, the population of the smallest district in the Lower House of the legislature totals 4485, whereas the population of the largest district represented is 139,293. In California, Los Angeles County has one state senator for a population of 6,038,771, while the smallest state senatorial district includes 72,105 people. The Lower House disparity in Vermont is the worst: one House district has a population of 36, while another, at the other extreme, has a population of 35,531. Vermont, Connecticut, and New Hampshire all continue the practice of giving each town a legislative seat.

The University of Virginia study showed that in the seven most populous states (New York, California, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, Texas, and Michigan), the following is the relative value of the right to vote for the two houses of the legislatures (with 100 the figure for proportional representation): in 1910, counties with under 25,000 population, 116; those with over 500,000 population, 83. But by 1960, the small-county figure had advanced to 194, whereas for the biggest counties it had dropped to 77.

The extent to which this increasing discrimination applies to the big suburban counties also is measurable. The comparable figures for Montgomery County, just outside Washington, D.C., in Maryland, slid from 154 in 1910, when it was rural, to 38 in 1960, when it had become chiefly urban. For Lake County, outside Cleveland, the figure dropped from 114 to 62, and for KLanc County, outside Chicago, from 108 to 76. There are many issues dividing the nation’s cities and their adjacent suburbs today, but on the matter of state-legislature malapportionment, they seem to suffer equally.

Pressure from the courts

What is the remedy? The federal courts, until now, have abided by Mr. Justice Frankfurter’s advice that they avoid entering the “political thicket” involved in such a political problem. “If a remedy is needed, it lies with the people of the state,” said the state of Tennessee. But the unhappy fact is that, “although the constitutions of 42 states require reapportionment of one or both houses of the legislature every ten years or more frequently, and three other states require decennial redistricting, in 1958, 23 of the then 48 states had not reapportioned for periods ranging from 10 years to half a century or more.” So stated the Solicitor General.

The simple fact is that there is no remedy which the voter can use if the courts will not help. But that the courts can help was demonstrated by the case of New Jersey. That state’s Supreme Court in 1960 held that it had both the authority and the duty to act in cases of malapportionment, but it refrained from ordering any action to sec what the legislature would do in the face of this warning. When the legislature dallied, the court said it would act at 5 P.M. on February 1, 1961. Governor Meyner then called a special session of the legislature, and a bill for reapportionment was passed at 3:13 P.M. on February 1. This precedent has been offered to the Supreme Court to indicate that, if it announces its authority and will to act, it probably will have to act only in rare cases.

The high court could act as it did in the school segregation cases. It could tell the Federal District Courts to issue the necessary orders or to approve reasonable reapportionment plans. In case of refusal, the courts could order an entire state legislature to be elected the next time on an at-large, statewide basis, which would break the rural majorities once and for all. The threat of elections at large would probably bring a reasonable reapportionment.

Tennessee’s highest court said that its intervention would bring chaos, and so it refused to intervene. Hence, the case came to the U.S. Supreme Court. Here, the state argued that for the court to intervene would violate both state sovereignty and the separation of powers between the legislative and judicial branches of government — Frankfurter’s view, which so far has prevailed.

The Solicitor General, the chief courtroom lawyer for the federal government, argued that, while exact numerical equality was not necessary and while geographic and other conditions could play a part in setting up legislative districts, any “gross inequality” was a violation of the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment, in that it was a denial of the right of franchise, a discrimination against large numbers of voters.

If the Supreme Court refuses this winter to accept jurisdiction and to express at least a willingness to have the District Courts intervene in malapportionment, then the only hope is that someday so many rural counties will have become urbanized that the rural-urban division will end.

A reapportionment, on a reasonable basis, of the major state legislatures with the grossest inequalities would equip both the urban and suburban areas with better tools to deal with their problems. Realignment of obsolete local jurisdictions, renewal of the rotting urban cores, and many other steps also will be necessary. But a strong court decision would without question contribute more than any other single measure to the revival of state government.

The Atlantic Community

When the Communists erected the wall inside Berlin, Washington badly underestimated the psychological shock to both the West Berliners and to the West Germans. Now there is talk of cushioning the shock of any agreement with the Soviet Union which, however it may be worded, will indicate the lost hope of reunification. The experts differ on the effect of this on the Germans, but all of them are aware of the danger of setting German opinion adrift. The HitlerStalin pact has not been forgotten, even if Hitler is long gone and modern Germany’s rulers seem to be eminently sound men.

Some think that the time may quickly be approaching when the President should take a first bold step toward the creation of a true Atlantic Community, a move toward a firmer link between the United States and Canada on this side of the Atlantic and the democracies in western Europe, chiefly the Common Market Six plus Britain and Scandinavia — “a concert of free nations,” in the words of Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman J. W. Fulbright.

The experience in western Europe, where Jean Monnet has gradually steered so many nations toward unity, demonstrates that to begin with economic rather than political ties is wise. Some American officials who strongly support the Atlantic Community idea agree but say that the United States should wait until Britain is in the Common Market — a move that will take perhaps a year to get over the hump. But others see the Berlin crisis as too important to wait. They suggest that West Germany must be given some new impetus toward the West before disillusionment sets in over a Berlin settlement. They suggest that the United States could take at least some tentative steps, such as removing visa requirements, as already has been done inside much of western Europe, or otherwise make movement across the Atlantic a simpler matter.

President Kennedy came to office so determined to improve American relations with Asia, Africa, and Latin America that to many Europeans he almost appeared to be anti-Europe. He did tend to take Europe for granted. But the Berlin crisis in a sense has driven him back to Europe as the base of Western strength outside of North America. Still, so far he has fended off suggestions for moving toward an Atlantic Community.

Meanwhile, a citizens’ group, set up by act of Congress, is now preparing for an Atlantic Convention of North Atlantic Treaty Organization member nations. Led by former Secretary of State Christian Herter, a Republican, and former Undersecretary of State, Will Clayton, a Democrat, this group seeks to make use of the political possibilities of the NATO alliance. This is a useful device to stir public interest, though it has been neglected by the Kennedy Administration almost totally.

Great crises produce great statesmanship. The Marshall Plan was born in Europe’s critical post-war hours. The Berlin crisis reflects an even more profound moment in history, but it has yet to be matched with statesmanship.

Mood of the Capital

During the fall there was considerable carping in Washington at the Administration’s failure to explain clearly to the American public the intricacies of the Berlin issue. Those who should know explain that not until early October did the President feel that he really had mastered its details. Only then did he begin again to speak freely about the future and America’s role in it and the role of American citizens. As he did, some of the gloom in tHe Capital began to lift, if only because his prose is so often soaring.

As fall turned to winter, the nation’s military capacity seemed to be increasing meaningfully, especially the Army’s capacity for conventional warfare. Here the President himself had set the direction, but much of what has been accomplished has been the work of his two top deputies at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara and Deputy Secretary Roswell Gilpatric. These two strong-minded men have together gained more control over the sprawling military bureaucracy, civilian and military, than any other team since the creation of the Department of Defense.

Of the two, McNamara is by far the better known. But Gilpatric, once Undersecretary of the Air Force in the Truman Administration, has brought to the Pentagon a combination of military skills and international political sophistication that often has seemed to be lacking.