The State of Tennessee had failed to enact reapportionment of the state legislative reapportionment despite the state’s constitutional requirement. Plaintiffs, citizens of the state, sued the state for failure to enact the appropriate statute.
The appropriateness under our system of government of attributing finality to the action of the political departments and the lack of satisfactory criteria for a judicial determination are dominant considerations. The nonjusticiability of a political question is primarily a function of the separation of powers.
The Tennessee legislature had failed to enact any reapportionment of the state legislative districts, despite a state constitutional requirement for decennial reapportionment. Due to population growth and shifts, plaintiffs claimed that they were denied the equal protection of the laws by virtue of the debasement of their votes. Only about 40% of the Tennessee voter elected Congress members. The Supreme Court held that the district court had subject matter jurisdiction of the controversy and the plaintiffs had the standing to sue.
Does the Supreme Court have jurisdiction over questions of state legislative reapportionment?
Yes, because there is no political question involved and legislative apportionment is a justiciable issue. The appellants’ allegations of a denial of equal protection present a justiciable constitutional cause of action upon which appellants are entitled to a trial and a decision. The right asserted is within the reach of judicial protection under the Fourteenth Amendment.
Disregard of inherent limits in the effective exercise of the Court’s judicial power will lead to the futility of judicial intervention in the essentially political conflict of forces by which the relation between population and representation. It will also impair the Court’s position as the organ of the supreme law of the land in the vast range of legal problems. The Court’s authority rests on sustained public confidence in its moral sanction. Such feeling must be nourished by the Court’s complete detachment from political entanglements and by abstention from injecting itself into the clash of political forces in political settlements.
The question here is the consistency of state action with the federal Constitution. The Court has no question decided by a political branch of government coequal with this Court. The Court also refused to risk embarrassment of the government abroad or grave disturbance at home if it takes issue with Tennessee as to the constitutionality of her action here challenged. The appellants have no need to ask the Court to enter upon policy determinations for which judicially manageable standards are lacking. Judicial standards under the Equal Protection Clause are well developed and familiar and it has been open to courts since the enactment of the Fourteenth Amendment to determine that a determination reflects no policy, but simply arbitrary and capricious action.