Baker v. Carr

Following is the Case Brief for Baker v. Carr, United States Supreme Court, (1962)

Case Summary of Baker v. Carr:

  • A Tennessee resident brought suit against the Secretary of State claiming that the failure to redraw the legislative districts every ten years, as outlined in the state constitution, resulted in rural votes holding more votes than urban votes.
  • The state claimed redistricting was a political question and non-justiciable.
  • Baker petitioned to the Supreme Court of the United States.
  • The Supreme Court held that an equal protection challenge to malapportionment of state legislatures is not a political question because is fails to meet any of the six political question tests and is, therefore, justiciable.

Baker v. Carr Case Brief

Statement of the Facts:

Under the Tennessee Constitution, legislative districts were required to be drawn every ten years. The purpose was to adjust to changes in the state’s population. Baker, a Republican citizen of Shelby County, brought suit against the Secretary of State claiming that the state had not been redistricted since 1901 and Shelby County had more residents than rural districts. Baker’s argument stated that because the districts had not been redrawn and the rural district had ten times fewer people, the rural votes essentially counted more denying him equal protection of the law. Tennessee claimed that redistricting was a political question and could not be decided by the courts under the Constitution.

Procedural History:

Baker claimed the malapportionment of state legislatures is justiciable and the state of Tennessee argued such an issue is a political question not capable of being decided by the courts. Baker petition to the United States Supreme Court.

Issue and Holding:

Is an equal protection challenge to a malapportionment of state legislatures considered non-justiciable as a political question? No.

Rule of Law or Legal Principle Applied:

A challenge brought under the Equal Protection Clause to malapportionment of state legislatures is not a political question and is justiciable.


Remanded to the District Court for consideration on the merits.


The current case is different than Luther v. Borden, 48 U.S. 1 (1849), because it is brought under the Equal Protection Clause and Luther challenged malapportionment under the Constitution’s Guaranty Clause.

An issue is considered a non-justiciable political question when one of six tests are met:

  1. Textually demonstrable constitutional commitment to another political branch;
  2. Lack of judicially discoverable and manageable standards for resolving the issue;
  3. Impossibility of deciding the issue without making an initial policy determination of a kind not suitable for judicial discretion;
  4. Lack of respect for the other branches of government in undertaking independent resolution in the case;
  5. Unusual need for unquestioning adherence to a political decision already made; or
  6. Potential for embarrassment for differing pronouncements of the issue by different branches of government.

This claim does not meet any of the six tests and is justiciable. There are no textually demonstrable commitments present regarding equal protection issues by other branches of government.  Judicial standards are already in place for the adjudication of like claims. Since Baker is an individual bringing suit against the state government, no separation of power concerns result.

Concurring and Dissenting opinions: 

Concurring (Douglas):

Since the right to vote is inherent in the Constitution, each vote should hold equal weight. The design of a legislative district which results in one vote counting more than another is the kind of invidious discrimination the Equal Protection Clause was developed to prevent.

Concurring (Stewart):

The dissenting and concurring opinions confuse which issues are presented in this case. The majority’s three rulings should be no more than whether:

  1. The jurisdiction is proper over the subject matter,
  2. Baker states a justiciable cause of action under which he should be entitled to relief, and
  3. Baker has standing to challenge Tennessee’s apportionment statutes.

In addition, the proper place for this trial is the trial court, not here.

Dissenting (Frankfurter and Harlan):

The majority’s decision fails to base its holding on both history and existing precedent. Such failure violates both judicial restraint and separation of powers concerns under the Constitution. Prior cases involving the same subject matter have been decided as nonjusticiable political questions.  The difference between challenges brought under the Equal Protection Clause and the Guaranty Clause is not enough to decide against existing precedent.

In addition, the majority’s analysis is clouded by too many indirect issues to focus on the real issue at hand. The issue in the case is whether or not the complaint sufficiently alleged a violation of a federal right to the extent a district court would have jurisdiction. The complaint does not state a claim under Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 12(b)(6). The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment does not suggest legislatures must intentionally structure their districts to reflect absolute equality of votes. The complaint also fails to adequately show Tennessee’s current system of apportionment is so arbitrary and capricious as to violate the Equal Protection Clause.


Baker v. Carr outlined that legislative apportionment is a justiciable non-political question. It established the right of federal courts to review redistricting issues, when just a few years earlier such matter were categorized as “political questions” outside the jurisdiction of the courts.

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