Baker was a Republican who
lived in Shelby County, Tennessee. He sued, claiming that although the
Tennessee State Constitution required that legislative districts be
redrawn every ten years according to the Federal census to provide for
districts of substantially equal population, Tennessee had not in fact
redistricted since the census of 1900.
By the time of Baker's
lawsuit, his district had about ten times as many residents as some of
the rural districts. Baker argued that this discrepancy was causing him
to fail to receive equal protection
as required by the 14th Amendment.
The members of the Tennessee
Legislature, having mainly been elected by districts that would lose
power in a redistricting, had no desire to bother with reapportionment.
If it is a political issue, it's one that the political process can't
really fix by itself.
Tennessee argued that
legislative districts were essentially political, not judicial, questions,
so the Court shouldn't hear the case.
Tennessee pointed to Colegrove
v. Green (328 U.S. 549 (1946)),
which declared that, "Courts ought not to enter this political
Tennessee argued that
reapportionment of legislative districts is a political question, and hence not a question which may be
resolved by Federal Courts
The US Supreme Court
eventually ruled that Baker's case was justiciable, but the decision was very split.
The case had to be put over
for reargument because in conference no clear majority emerged for either
side of the case.
The US Supreme Court found
that reapportionment was covered by the 14th Amendment.
The Court reformulated the political
question doctrine, proposing a
six-part test for determining which questions were "political"
in nature. Cases which are political in nature are marked by:
constitutional commitment of the issue to a coordinate political
For example, issues of
foreign affairs and executive war powers.
A lack of judicially
discoverable and manageable standards for resolving it.
The impossibility of
deciding without an initial policy determination of a kind clearly for
The impossibility of a
court's undertaking independent resolution without expressing lack of
the respect due coordinate branches of government.
An unusual need for
unquestioning adherence to a political decision already made.
The potentiality of
embarrassment from multifarious pronouncements by various departments on
In a dissent, it was argued
that the Court had shunted aside history and judicial restraint and
violated the separation of powers between legislatures and Courts.
The dissent claimed that
there are several types of cases that the judiciary did not traditionally
Cases concerning war or
Cases concerning the
structure and organization of political institutions of the US.
Cases involving abstract
questions of political power, sovereignty and government.
This case, and subsequent
cases fundamentally altered the nature of political representation in
America, requiring not just Tennessee but nearly every state to redistrict
during the 1960s, often several times.
Later, in Reynolds v. Sims (377 U.S. 533 (1964)), the US Supreme Court
laid out a new test for evaluating reapportionment claims.
The Court formulated the
famous one-man, one-vote standard for legislative districting, holding
that each individual had to be weighted equally in legislative
Up until this case, the US
Supreme Court had found that issues involving reapportionment were not judicable. The difference is that the cases until this
point had been based on the Guarantee Clause of the Constitution, which guaranteed that the
States would have a "republican form of government." The courts
consistently said that this was a political question because it was up to the 'United States' to
guarantee, not the courts. This case was different because Baker was
arguing on Equal Protection Clause grounds. The Court found that that was a judicable issue.
The political question
doctrine was established in Marbury
v. Madison and says Federal Courts should decline to rule in
The U.S. Constitution has
committed decision-making on this subject to another branch of the
There are inadequate
standards for the court to apply; or