Baker v. Carr
Baker v. Carr, , was a landmark United States Supreme Court case that retreated from the Court's political question doctrine, deciding that redistricting
Redistricting is the process of drawing United States electoral district boundaries, often in response to population changes determined by the results of the decennial census. In 36 states, the state legislature has primary responsibility for creating a redistricting plan, in many cases subject to...

 (attempts to change the way voting districts are delineated) issues present justiciable
Justiciability concerns the limits upon legal issues over which a court can exercise its judicial authority. It includes, but is not limited to, the legal concept of standing, which is used to determine if the party bringing the suit is a party appropriate to establishing whether an actual...

 questions, thus enabling federal courts to intervene in and to decide reapportionment cases. The defendants unsuccessfully argued that reapportionment of legislative districts is a "political question
Political question
In American Constitutional law, the political question doctrine is closely linked to the concept of justiciability, as it comes down to a question of whether or not the court system is an appropriate forum in which to hear the case. This is because the court system only has authority to hear and...

," and hence not a question that may be resolved by federal courts.


Plaintiff Charles Baker was a Republican  who lived in Shelby County, Tennessee
Shelby County, Tennessee
Shelby County is a county located in the U.S. state of Tennessee. It is the state's largest both in terms of population and geographic area, with a population of 927,644 at the 2010 census...

, the county in which Memphis
Memphis, Tennessee
Memphis is a city in the southwestern corner of the U.S. state of Tennessee, and the county seat of Shelby County. The city is located on the 4th Chickasaw Bluff, south of the confluence of the Wolf and Mississippi rivers....

  is located. The Tennessee State Constitution  required that legislative
A legislature is a kind of deliberative assembly with the power to pass, amend, and repeal laws. The law created by a legislature is called legislation or statutory law. In addition to enacting laws, legislatures usually have exclusive authority to raise or lower taxes and adopt the budget and...

  districts be redrawn every ten years according to the federal census
A census is the procedure of systematically acquiring and recording information about the members of a given population. It is a regularly occurring and official count of a particular population. The term is used mostly in connection with national population and housing censuses; other common...

  to provide for districts of substantially equal population. Baker's complaint was that Tennessee had not in fact redistricted since the census of 1901. By the time of Baker's lawsuit, the population had shifted such that his district in Shelby County had about ten times as many residents as some of the rural
Rural areas or the country or countryside are areas that are not urbanized, though when large areas are described, country towns and smaller cities will be included. They have a low population density, and typically much of the land is devoted to agriculture...

  districts. Representationally, the votes of rural citizens were worth more than the votes of urban citizens. Baker's argument was that this discrepancy was causing him to fail to receive the "equal protection of the laws" required by the Fourteenth Amendment
Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was adopted on July 9, 1868, as one of the Reconstruction Amendments.Its Citizenship Clause provides a broad definition of citizenship that overruled the Dred Scott v...

. Defendant Joe Carr
Joe C. Carr
Joseph Cordell Carr, Sr. , commonly known as "Joe C. Carr," was a Democratic Party politician in the state of Tennessee who served almost 27 years as Tennessee Secretary of State. -Early life:...

 was sued in his position as Secretary of State  for Tennessee. Carr was not the person who set the district lines – the state legislature
Tennessee General Assembly
The Tennessee General Assembly is the state legislature of the U.S. state of Tennessee.-Constitutional structure:According to the Tennessee State Constitution of 1870, the General Assembly is a bicameral legislature and consists of a Senate of thirty-three members and a House of Representatives of...

  had done that – but was sued ex officio as the person who was ultimately responsible for the conduct of elections in the state and for the publication of district maps. The State of Tennessee argued that legislative districts were essentially political questions, not judicial ones, as had been held by a plurality opinion of the Court in which Justice Felix Frankfurter  declared that, "Courts ought not to enter this political thicket." Frankfurter believed that relief for legislative malapportionment had to be won through the political process.

The Court's Decision

The decision of Baker v. Carr was one of the most wrenching in the Court's history. The case had to be put over for reargument because in conference no clear majority emerged for either side of the case. Justice Charles Evans Whittaker
Charles Evans Whittaker
Charles Evans Whittaker was an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1957 to 1962.-Early years:...

  was so torn over the case that he eventually had to recuse himself. The arduous decisional process in Baker is often blamed for Whittaker's subsequent health problems, which forced him to resign from the Court.

The opinion was finally handed down in March 1962, nearly a year after it was initially argued. The Court split 6 to 2 in ruling that Baker's case was justiciable, producing, in addition to the opinion of the Court by Justice William J. Brennan, three concurring opinions and two dissenting opinions. Brennan reformulated the political question doctrine, identifying six factors to help in determining which questions were "political" in nature. Cases that are political in nature are marked by:
1. "Textually demonstrable constitutional commitment of the issue to a coordinate political department;" as an example of this, Brennan cited issues of foreign affairs and executive war powers, arguing that cases involving such matters would be "political questions"

2. "A lack of judicially discoverable and manageable standards for resolving it;"

3. "The impossibility of deciding without an initial policy determination of a kind clearly for nonjudicial discretion;"

4. "The impossibility of a court's undertaking independent resolution without expressing lack of the respect due coordinate branches of government;"

5. "An unusual need for unquestioning adherence to a political decision already made;"

6. "The potentiality of embarrassment from multifarious pronouncements by various departments on one question."

Justice Tom C. Clark
Tom C. Clark
Thomas Campbell Clark was United States Attorney General from 1945 to 1949 and an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States .- Early life and career :...

 switched his vote at the last minute to a concurrence on the substance of Baker's claims, which would have enabled a majority which could have granted relief for Baker, but instead the Supreme Court remanded the case to the District Court.

The large majority in this case can in many ways be attributed to Justice Brennan, who convinced Potter Stewart that the case was a narrow ruling dealing only with plaintiff power to challenge the statute. Brennan also talked down Justices Black and Douglas from their usual absolutist positions to achieve a compromise.

Dissent by Justices Frankfurter and Harlan

Frankfurter, joined by Justice John Marshall Harlan II
John Marshall Harlan II
John Marshall Harlan was an American jurist who served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court from 1955 to 1971. His namesake was his grandfather John Marshall Harlan, another associate justice who served from 1877 to 1911.Harlan was a student at Upper Canada College and Appleby College and...

, dissented vigorously and at length, arguing that the Court had cast aside history and judicial restraint, and violated the separation of powers between legislatures and Courts. He wrote:
Plaintiffs here invoked the right to vote and have their vote counted, but they are permitted to vote and their vote is already counted. The complaint being made here is that their vote is not powerful enough. They should seek relief in the legislative system, not the courts.


Having declared redistricting
Redistricting is the process of drawing United States electoral district boundaries, often in response to population changes determined by the results of the decennial census. In 36 states, the state legislature has primary responsibility for creating a redistricting plan, in many cases subject to...

 issues justiciable in Baker, the court laid out a new test for evaluating such claims. The Court formulated the famous "one person, one vote" standard under American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 jurisprudence for legislative redistricting, holding that each individual had to be weighted equally in legislative apportionment; this principle was formally enunciated in the 1964 case Reynolds v. Sims
Reynolds v. Sims
Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533 was a United States Supreme Court case that ruled that state legislature districts had to be roughly equal in population.-Facts:...

. The Court decided that in states with bicameral legislatures both houses had to be apportioned on this standard, voiding the provision of the Arizona Constitution
Arizona Constitution
The Constitution of the State of Arizona is the governing document and framework for the U.S. state of Arizona. The current constitution is the first and only adopted by the state of Arizona.-History:...

 which had provided for two state senators from each county and similar provisions elsewhere. (Even the Tennessee Constitution, enforcement of which was the original basis for the case, has a provision which prevented counties from being split and portions of a county being attached to other counties or parts of counties in the creation of a district which was overridden, and today counties are frequently split among districts in forming Tennessee State Senate districts.) However, "One person, one vote" was first applied as a standard for Congressional
United States House of Representatives
The United States House of Representatives is one of the two Houses of the United States Congress, the bicameral legislature which also includes the Senate.The composition and powers of the House are established in Article One of the Constitution...


Baker v. Carr and subsequent cases fundamentally altered the nature of political representation in America, requiring not just Tennessee
Tennessee is a U.S. state located in the Southeastern United States. It has a population of 6,346,105, making it the nation's 17th-largest state by population, and covers , making it the 36th-largest by total land area...

 but nearly every state to redistrict during the 1960s, often several times. This re-apportionment increased the political power of urban areas and reduced the influence of more rural areas. After he left the Court, Chief Justice Earl Warren
Earl Warren
Earl Warren was the 14th Chief Justice of the United States.He is known for the sweeping decisions of the Warren Court, which ended school segregation and transformed many areas of American law, especially regarding the rights of the accused, ending public-school-sponsored prayer, and requiring...

 called the Baker v. Carr line of cases the most important in his tenure as Chief Justice
Chief Justice
The Chief Justice in many countries is the name for the presiding member of a Supreme Court in Commonwealth or other countries with an Anglo-Saxon justice system based on English common law, such as the Supreme Court of Canada, the Constitutional Court of South Africa, the Court of Final Appeal of...


External links

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