Prior to the 1960s, the Supreme Court generally did not adjudicate issues of gerrymandering and redistricting. Baker v. Carr (1962), was a milestone which dramatically changed how the courts dealt with issues of political districts. Read the excerpt below from the Federal Judicial Center’s summary on the case and answer the questions that follow.
Baker v. Carr involved a claim that the Tennessee legislature had failed to reapportion the state’s legislative districts in accordance with the state constitution. The U.S. district court dismissed the case, ruling that it lacked jurisdiction and that the plaintiffs’ claims were not justiciable, meaning that they were “political questions” not appropriately resolved by a court. The Supreme Court reversed, finding that the subject matter of the case was within the federal judicial power, the plaintiffs had the legal standing necessary to bring their claims, and most importantly, that legislative apportionment was in fact a justiciable issue and not a political question. The majority made clear that its holding did not apply only to cases in which a state was alleged to have violated its own law, but to any case in which a state may have failed to apportion its districts in an equal fashion in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The decision opened the door to lawsuits over legislative apportionment in other states, many of which alleged that state legislatures had failed to reapportion districts to reflect growing urban populations, thereby giving undue political influence to voters in rural areas.Federal Judicial Center
Questions for Completion
1. Historically, the Supreme Court does not like to address “political questions.” Why do you think this is?
2. How did the Court’s evaluation of reapportionment evolve as the case percolated to the Supreme Court?
3. What is the significance of the court’s decision? In other words, what is the legacy of Baker v. Carr (1962)?