Baker v. Carr Case Brief

Summary of Baker v. Carr (1962)

Relevant Facts: The TN legislature refused to reapportion itself, and the state’s demographics had changed since then. PL’s, who lived in urban and suburban legislative districts that had many more voters than rural districts, claimed that their votes were diluted in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. They sought an injunction prohibiting elections under the current scheme, with the remedy of reapportionment or at-large elections as possible solutions. District Court denied relief, holding the question a political question under Colgrove. This Court

Issue: Under constitutional law, is a challenge to the reapportionment of the TN legislature a political question barred by the Court as a limit on its judicial power to decide, or is it merely an equal protection question, well within the rights conferred to it under the Constitution?

Holding: A challenge to the reapportionment is not a political question, but one of constitutionality as it relates to the state’s carrying out of rules in the Constitution.

Court’s Rationale/Reasoning: Just b/c a suit seeks protection of a political right does not mean that it presents a political question. Nonjusticiability of a political question is primarily a function of the separation of powers. This is done on a case-by-case basis.

Foreign relations: precedent says all foreign relations questions are political questions, but this is not true. It has been said that if there has been no conclusive governmental action then a court can construe a treaty and may find it provides the answer.

Dates of duration of hostilities: when there needs to be definable clarification for a decision, the political question barrier falls away.

Validity of enactments: with political questions, come the need to clarify policy, determine initial policy, to settle what is judicially discoverable and manageable standards to answering it. Unless one of these issues is undeniably tied into the case-at-bar, then there should be no dismissal for nonjusticiability on the ground of a political question’s presence.

It’s argued that this is a case which has not yet been considered: those which involve the Guaranty Clause and the guaranty of a republican form of gov’t, which involves a political question.

Justice Brennan established the contours of the PQD in Baker v. Carr: (6 potential factors)

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

(1) a textually demonstrable commitment of the issue to a coordinate political department;

(2) or a lack of judicially discoverable and manageable standards for resolving it;

(3) or the impossibility of deciding without an initial policy determination of a kind clearly for non-judicial discretion;

(4) or the impossibility of a court’s undertaking independent resolution without expressing lack of respect due coordinate branches of government;

(5) or an unusual need for unquestioning adherence to a political decision already made;

(6) or the potentiality of embarrassment from multifarious pronouncements by various departments on one question.

In Luther, the Court found they should not intervene, b/c it could render chaos by invalidating previous statutory law, no state court had recognized the issue before them, this was a State question to which the federal courts had to follow unless there was a constitutional provision to the contrary, and no constitutional provision had been invoked except the Guaranty Clause, which the Court said it was not empowered to intervene.

In Luther, other branches needed to get involved to answer and enforce this question, but here there is no multi-branch involvement. The Court refused to use Guaranty Clause to settle state questions, but challenges to congressional action on the ground of inconsistency with that clause present no justiciable question.

Thus, there is no political question under the doctrine of nonjusticiability: no question is decided, nor to be decided by another branch of the government. Judicial standards under the Equal Protection Clause are well developed and familiar, and it has been open to courts since the enactment of the 14th Amendment to determine if, on the particular facts they must, that a discrimination reflects no policy, but simply arbitrary and capricious action.

Rule: When a question is enmeshed with any of the other two branches of the government, it is seen as a political question and is the Court will not answer it, without more clarification from the other branches.

Important Dicta: N/A.

Dissenting: (Justices Frankfurter & Harlan): Certain types of cases do not lend themselves to judicial standards and judicial remedies:

(1) cases concerning war or foreign affairs.

(2) matters concerning the structure and organization of the political institutions of the States.

(3) cases involving Black disenfranchisement.

(4) Court has refused to exercise its jurisdiction to pass on “abstract questions of political power, of sovereignty, or gov’t.” Requires standing (must claim infringement of an interest particular and personal to themselves, as opposed to the general framework of the gov’t)

(5) the influence of these converging consideration: the caution not to undertake decision where standards meet for judicial judgment are lacking, the reluctance to interfere with matters of state gov’t in the absence of an unquestionable and effectively enforceable mandate, the unwillingness to make courts arbiters of the broad issues of political organization historically committed to other institutions and for whose adjustment the judicial process is ill-adapted are all not enforceable through the courts. All 5 elements are here.



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