Constitutional Law I, Pages 106–113

Baker v. Carr

1962

Facts:

Tennessee's legislature had not appropriately reapportioned its districts based on population in almost sixty years. Plaintiffs brought suit to fix this because the legislature could not fairly be made to because it was malapportioned.

Procedural History:

District court dismissed as nonjusticiable.

Issue:

Is this a political question that is nonjusticiable by the courts?

Rules:

  • Political questions are nonjusticiable because they are for the other branches to decide.

  • Google Scholar LogoPage 107–108

    Prominent on the surface of any case held to involve a political question is found

    1. a textually demonstrable constitutional commitment of the issue to a coordinate political department; or
    2. a lack of judicially discoverable and manageable standards for resolving it; or
    3. the impossibility of deciding without an initial policy determination of a kind clearly for nonjudicial discretion; or
    4. the impossibility of a court's undertaking independent resolution without expressing lack of the respect due coordinate branches of government; or
    5. an unusual need for unquestioning adherence to a political decision already made; or
    6. the potentiality of embarrassment from multifarious pronouncements by various departments on one question.

Reasoning:

Courts do not have a judicially discoverable and manageable standard for determining if a state has a republican government under the Guaranty Clause of Article IV, § 4. However, under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, there is a discoverable and manageable standard. This malapportionment violates it, as the affected districts have lost their equal representation.

Holding:

No, this presents a justiciable constitutional cause of action. Reversed and remanded.

Concurring Opinion:

Clark: This should only be a last option after the people of Tennessee have tried every other way of fixing this problem, but there is no other option as the malapportionment has itself prevented the people from voting for change. Neither the state courts nor the governor have been able to change this. It may be possible for Congress to, but that is an impractical solution, especially as Congress has never done such a thing before. Thus, it is necessary that the federal courts intervene.

Dissenting Opinion:

Frankfurter: The Court has consistently declined to rule on political questions. Courts are not fit instruments of decision of policies typically fought out in non-judicial forums, by which governments are made and unmade. This case fits all these elements. It is non-justiciable under the Guarantee Clause and this is just hat masquerading under a different label. It cannot make it more fit for judicial action when the gist of the complaint is the same.

There is no fit standard for a vote whereby to judge Tennessee's system, and establishing one would be a political question for the state to decide. Every person can still vote, and it will be equal with everyone else in his district. Equal protection can only mean an equality in relation to whatever governmental action is challenged. As this is a republican form of government, equal protection only goes as far as it does, meaning the judicial guide is the same as under the Guarantee Clause itself. Apportionment is a complex process that does not lend itself to judicial determinations and will add friction in federal-state relations.