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Baker v. Carr

Matthew Steinberg

InstructorMatthew Steinberg

CaseCast "What you need to know"

CaseCast –  "What you need to know"

Baker v. Carr

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Brief Fact Summary. Appellants brought suit, challenging malapportionment of state legislatures under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. An apportionment case may be reviewed on Fourteenth Amendment grounds, so long as these grounds are independent from political question elements.

Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.

Of this form of government the Supreme Court of the United States said: By the Constitution, a republican form of government is guaranteed to every State in the Union, and the distinguishing feature of that form is the right of the people to choose their own officers for governmental administration, and pass their own laws in virtue of the legislative power reposed in representative bodies, whose legitimate acts may be said to be those of the people themselves; but, while the people are thus the source of political power, their governments, National and State, have been limited by written constitutions, and they have themselves thereby set bounds to their own power, as against the sudden impulses of mere majorities.

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Facts. Apportionment cases had often been brought under the Guaranty Clause of Article IV, Section: 4 of the United States Constitution (Constitution), in which the United States guarantees to the individual states a republican form of government. The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) has long held that such challenges present a political question, not addressable by the courts. In the current case, Appellants challenged the state apportionment of legislatures under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Issue. Is it possible to bring a malapportionment claim without raising a nonjusticiable political issue?

Held. Yes. Reversed and remanded.
In the past, apportionment challengers have generally based their challenge on the Guaranty Clause of Art. IV, Section: 4 of the Constitution. These claims are nonjusticiable as they address issues solely directed to the political branches of the government by the Constitution. This is a separation of powers issue.
In Baker v. Carr, the claim is that the Appellants are being denied equal protection of the laws by being underrepresented in the state legislature. The Supreme Court rules that the equal protection challenge in this case is separable from the political questions.

Dissent. In a vigorous dissent, Justice Felix Frankfurter (J. Frankfurter) argues the political question is inseparable from the equal protection claim and that the Supreme Court has effectively overturned a century of apportionment jurisprudence. In particular, the dissent argues that the Supreme Court has opened up all state districting to judicial oversight.

Discussion. Baker v. Carr is the first of the cases developing the Supreme Court’s “one person, one vote” legislation. This line of cases helped equalize representation between country and city dwellers in an increasingly urbanized nation.

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