1962 March 26

Legislative Apportionment a “Justiciable” Issue


In a landmark decision on this day, Baker v. Carr, the Supreme Court ruled that the apportionment of legislative districts was a “justiciable” issue, meaning the courts could rule on their composition. The decision reversed the 1946 decision in Colegrove v. Green, which held that legislative apportionment was a “political” issue reserved for legislatures. Baker set the stage for Reynolds v. Sims (June 15, 1964), which established the “one person, one vote” standard for apportionment. The combination of Baker v. Carr and Reynolds v. Sims had an enormous impact on the democratic process. At the time, rural legislative districts with relatively small populations were severely overrepresented at the expense of urban areas with comparatively larger populations. In the long run, and as a result of population shifts, suburban areas gained enormous strength.

One important indirect consequence of Baker v. Carr was that it caused Justice Felix Frankfurter, an increasingly strenuous advocate of judicial restraint, to resign in frustration, sensing that he was out of step with the majority of the Court. He was replaced by Arthur Goldberg (for what was then informally regarded as the “Jewish seat” on the Court), who was a very strong civil libertarian. The result was to dramatically shift the activist civil libertarian group on the Warren Court.

The Court:

1. The District Court had jurisdiction of the subject matter of the federal constitutional claim asserted in the complaint.  

2. Appellants had standing to maintain this suit.  

3. The complaint’s allegations of a denial of equal protection presented a justiciable constitutional cause of action upon which appellants are entitled to a trial and a decision.

Read: Richard C. Cortner, The Apportionment Cases (1970)

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