12 HISTORIC SUPREME COURT DECISIONS A C-SPAN ORIGINAL TV SERIES
Summary
Case Decided:
March 26, 1962

Baker v. Carr (1962) established the right of federal courts to review redistricting issues, which had previously been termed "political questions" outside the courts' jurisdiction. The Court’s willingness to address legislative reapportionment in this Tennessee case paved the way for the “one man, one vote” standard of American representative democracy.

The early 1900s saw both population increases and rapid urban migration in America. In Tennessee, while people flocked to cities like Memphis, the legislative districts stayed the same. Although more people were voting in urban areas, they still had the same amount of political representation as rural districts with significantly fewer residents. In 1960, roughly two-thirds of Tennessee’s representatives were being elected by one-third of the state’s population. A group of urban voters including Memphis resident Charles Baker sued Tennessee Secretary of State Joseph Carr for more equal representation. In a 6-2 decision, Justice William Brennan wrote for the majority that the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause was valid grounds to bring a reapportionment lawsuit. This decision opened the floodgates for similar lawsuits that redrew election maps around the country.

Key Players
Chief Justice Earl Warren

Earl Warren (March 19, 1891 – July 9, 1974) was a California lawyer, prosecutor, and governor who became chief justice of the Supreme Court (1953 – 1969). Although Warren presided over a slew of cases that affected everything from the criminal justice system to racial equality, he called Baker the most important case of his career.

Justice William Brennan

William Brennan, Jr. (April 25, 1906 – July 24, 1997) was the Supreme Court justice (1956 – 1990) who wrote the decision in Baker. In his opinion for the Court, Brennan said the Court could decide legislative apportionment cases, setting new standards for what could be considered a “political question” beyond judicial consideration.

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