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BAKER v. CARR (1962)

Central to the Brown decision was the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protections clause—the lever that lifted so many neglected Americans to equality in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Some of the people were the nations citydwellers, for decades ruled by state governments stacked with legislators from the rural areas. Yet another important case focusing on the equal protections clause of the Fourteenth Amendment was to come before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1962 in Baker v. Carr.

The urbanization of the United States, which peaked at the beginning of the twentieth century, created a number of grotesquely malapportioned congressional districts on the national level, and legislative districts on the state level—a problem that took decades to correct. In 1960, for instance, Connecticut's largest city of 164,000 sent two deputies to the general assembly, and so did its smallest town of 480 people.

Suits brought to the federal courts under the equal protections clause of the Fourteenth Amendment were routinely rejected following the precedent in Colegrove v. Green of 1946. In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court refused the reapportionment of U.S. congressional districts and by extension, reapportionment in state legislatures. Justice Felix Frankfurter considered these to be "political questions," not justiciable in the courts—in fact, the whole issue a "political thicket."

But times were changing, and by the 1960s, political activism had swept the nation, the U.S. Supreme Court included. The equal protections clause of the Fourteenth Amendment had been given new force in a number of high-profile cases, and the majority on the Court was ready to dump Colegrove v. Green into the waste bin of judicial history.

The opportunity came in a case from Tennessee, where the state legislative districts had not been reconfigured since 1901 despite a fourfold increase in population and a very decided shift toward cities. Indeed, 37 percent of the voters—mostly rural— elected nearly two-thirds of the upper house, and 40 percent elected nearly two-thirds of the lower house. And things were much worse in other states. In Alabama, in 1960, 104,767 people in one county had the same representation as 6,731 in another; in Vermont similarly, the largest city with a population of 35,531 had the same representation of the smallest village of 38 folks.

In Baker v. Carr, the Court rejected Frankfurter's warning about political thickets. These grotesque imbalances certainly distorted the elective process, and the plaintiffs' cause should be heard, thus the precedential barrier that blocked judiciability—the so-called political questions doctrine—was blasted. The issue of remedies was left up to the district court. The remedy of course was "one man, one vote," or "one person, one vote." As a follow-up to Baker v. Carr, Justice William 0. Douglas's opinion in a Georgia case (Gray v. Sanders, 1963) established that all voters deserved ecpal votes. The upshot was a shift in balance from the formerly over-represented rural areas of the states to areas that had become urbanized over the course of the previous century.

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