Lampkin v. Connor

I am working away on my draft paper arguing that the congressional reapportionment process is unconstitutional under Section Two of the Fourteenth Amendment. In the course of my research, I’ve uncovered a fascinating unknown (or at least unheralded) story about the Civil Rights Movement.

In February 1963, Daisy Lampkin wrote a letter to the Secretary of Commerce. Lampkin was an activist for woman’s suffrage who became the national field secretary of the NAACP in 1935. After leaving that role in 1947, she became the first woman to serve on the organization’s Board of Directors. Lampkin’s letter asked the Commerce Secretary, who was responsible for the reapportionment calculations under the relevant statute, to enforce Section Two of the Fourteenth Amendment and lower the number of representatives from the South while increasing them elsewhere. The Commerce Secretary replied in a letter that he lacked the statutory authority to do what Lampkin wanted.

Shortly thereafter, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (with Lampkin as the lead plaintiff) filed suit in the District of Columbia against the Commerce Secretary and the Director of the Census. The suit sought a declaratory judgment against these officials stating that the Reapportionment Act imposed a duty on them to enforce Section Two as part of the 1970 census. If the statute could not read as imposing such a duty, then the Act should be declared unconstitutional. Jack Greenberg (who succeeded Thurgood Marshall as the Head of the LDF and was part of the Brown litigation) was on the brief and (at least according to a newspaper article that I found) was assisted by Constance Baker Motley.

In early 1965, the Federal District Court dismissed the suit for want of standing.  Part of that conclusion rested on the fact that the plaintiffs were individual voters who might have lacked the concrete interest necessary to bring the claim. The court’s opinion, though, was also full of quotes from Justice Frankfurter about the need for courts to say out of political disputes.Shortly after this decision, the Voting Rights Act was signed by President Johnson.

A year later, the D.C. Circuit affirmed the dismissal, though on prudential standing grounds. Basically, the panel said that the wise approach was to see how the Voting Rights Act was implemented prior to the 1970 census before taking on the statutory and constitutional issues raised by the plaintiffs.

The suit was never refiled. One can understand why–the Voting Rights Act worked well. The problem, as my paper will explain, is the legal issue identified by the NAACP (that the reapportionment statute is unconstitutional under Section Two of the Fourteenth Amendment) was not fixed by the VRA and thus still stands. In a case with proper plaintiffs (states rather than individuals) this can be addressed.

Anyway, one of those curious “What If?” scenarios.

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1 Response

  1. Joe says:

    “The court’s opinion, though, was also full of quotes from Justice Frankfurter about the need for courts to say out of political disputes.”

    A tad out of date after Baker v. Carr.