Baker v. Carr

Decision Date26 March 1962
Docket NumberNo. 6,6
PartiesCharles W. BAKER et al., Appellants, v. Joe C. CARR et al. Re
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Charles S. Rhyne, Washington, D.C., and Z. T. Osborn, Jr., Nashville, Tenn., for appellants.

Jack Wilson, Chattanooga, Tenn., for appellees.

Solicitor General Archibald Cox, Washington, D.C., for the United States, as amicus curiae, by special leave of Court.

Mr. Justice BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

This civil action was brought under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988, 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 1983, 1988 to redress the alleged deprivation of federal constitutional rights. The complaint, alleging that by means of a 1901 statute of Tennessee apportioning the members of the General Assembly among the State's 95 counties, 1 'these plaintiffs and others similarly situated are denied the equal protection of the laws accorded them by the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States by virtue of the debasement of their votes,' was dismissed by a three-judge court convened under 28 U.S.C. § 2281, 28 U.S.C.A. § 2281 in the Middle District of Tennessee.2 The court held that it lacked jurisdiction of the subject matter and also that no claim was stated upon which relief could be granted. 179 F.Supp. 824. We noted probable jurisdiction of the appeal. 364 U.S. 898, 81 S.Ct. 230, 5 L.Ed.2d 193.3 We hold that the dismissal was error, and remand the cause to the District Court for trial and further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

The General Assembly of Tennessee consists of the Senate with 33 members and the House of Representatives with 99 members. The Tennessee Constitution provides in Art. II as follows:

'Sec. 3. Legislative authority—Term of office.—The Legislative authority of this State shall be vested in a General Assembly, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives, both dependent on the people; who shall hold their offices for two years from the day of the general election.

'Sec. 4. Census.—An enumeration of the qualified voters, and an apportionment of the Representatives in the General Assembly, shall be made in the year one thousand eight hundred and seventy-one, and within every subsequent term of ten years.

'Sec. 5. Apportionment of representatives.—The number of Representatives shall, at the several periods of making the enumeration, be apportioned among the several counties or districts, according to the number of qualified voters in each; and shall not exceed seventy-five, until the population of the State shall be one million and a half, and shall never exceed ninety-nine; Provided, that any county having two-thirds of the ratio shall be entitled to one member.

'Sec 6. Apportionment of senators.—The number of Senators shall, at the several periods of making the enumeration, be apportioned among the several counties or districts according to the number of qualified electors in each, and shall not exceed one-third the number of representatives. In apportioning the Senators among the different counties, the fraction that may be lost by any county or counties, in the apportionment of members to the House of Representatives, shall be made up to such county or counties in the Senate, as near as may be practicable. When a district is composed of two or more counties, they shall be adjoining; and no county shall be divided in forming a district.'

Thus, Tennessee's standard for allocating legislative representation among her counties is the total number of qualified voters resident in the respective counties, subject only to minor qualifications.4 Decennial reapportionment in compliance with the constitutional scheme was effected by the General Assembly each decade from 1871 to 1901. The 1871 apportionment5 was preceded by an 1870 statute requiring an enumeration.6 The 1881 apportionment involved three statutes, the first authorizing an enumeration, the second enlarging the Senate from 25 to 33 members and the House from 75 to 99 members, and the third apportioning the membership of both Houses.7 In 1891 there were both an enumeration and an apportionment.8 In 1901 the General Assembly abandoned separate enumeration in favor of reliance upon the Federal Census and passed the Apportionment Act here in controversy.9 In the more than 60 years since that action, all proposals in both Houses of the General Assembly for reapportionment have failed to pass.10 Between 1901 and 1961, Tennessee has experienced substantial growth and redistribution of her population. In 1901 the population was 2,020,616, of whom 487,380 were eligible to vote.11 The 1960 Federal Census reports the State's population at 3,567,089, of whom 2,092,891 are eligible to vote.12 The relative standings of the counties in terms of qualified voters have changed significantly. It is primarily the continued application of the 1901 Apportionment Act to this shifted and enlarged voting population which gives rise to the present controversy.

Indeed, the complaint alleges that the 1901 statute, even as of the time of its passage, 'made no apportionment of Representatives and Senators in accordance with the constitutional formula * * *, but instead arbitrarily and capriciously apportioned representatives in the Senate and House without reference * * * to any logical or reasonable formula whatever.'13 It is further alleged that 'because of the population changes since 1900, and the failure of the Legislature to reapportion itself since 1901,' the 1901 statute became 'unconstitutional and obsolete.' Appellants also argue that, because of the composition of the legislature effected by the 1901 Apportionment Act, redress in the form of a state constitutional amendment to change the entire mechanism for reapportioning, or any other change short of that, is difficult or impossible.14 The complaint concludes that 'these plain- tiffs and others similarly situated, are denied the equal protection of the laws accorded them by the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States by virtue of the debasement of their votes.'15 They seek a declaration that the 1901 statute is unconstitutional and an injunction restraining the appellees from acting to conduct any further elections under it. They also pray that unless and until the General Assembly enacts a valid reapportionment, the District Court should either decree a reapportionment by mathematical application of the Tennessee constitutional formulae to the most recent Federal Census figures, or direct the appellees to conduct legislative elections, primary and general, at large. They also pray for such other and further relief as may be appropriate.



Because we deal with this case on appeal from an order of dismissal granted on appellees' motions, precise identi- fication of the issues presently confronting us demands clear exposition of the grounds upon which the District Court rested in dismissing the case. The dismissal order recited that the court sustained the appellees' grounds '(1) that the Court lacks jurisdiction of the subject matter, and (2) that the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted * * *.'

In the setting of a case such as this, the recited grounds embrace two possible reasons for dismissal:

First: That the facts and injury alleged, the legal bases invoked as creating the rights and duties relied upon, and the relief sought, fail to come within that language of Article III of the Constitution and of the jurisdictional statutes which define those matters concerning which United States District Courts are empowered to act;

Second: That, although the matter is cognizable and facts are alleged which establish infringement of appellants' rights as a result of state legislative action departing from a federal constitutional standard, the court will not proceed because the matter is considered unsuited to judicial inquiry or adjustment.

We treat the first ground of dismissal as 'lack of jurisdiction of the subject matter.' The second we consider to result in a failure to state a justiciable cause of action.

The District Court's dismissal order recited that it was issued in conformity with the court's per curiam opinion. The opinion reveals that the court rested its dismissal upon lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and lack of a justiciable cause of action without attempting to distinguish between these grounds. After noting that the plaintiffs challenged the existing legislative apportionment in Tennessee under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses, and summarizing the supporting allegations and the relief requested, the court stated that

'The action is presently before the Court upon the defendants' motion to dismiss predicated upon three grounds: first, that the Court lacks jurisdiction of the subject matter; second, that the complaints fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted; and third, that indispensable party defendants are not before the Court.' 179 F.Supp., at 826.

The court proceeded to explain its action as turning on the case's presenting a 'question of the distribution of political strength for legislative purposes.' For,

'From a review of (numerous Supreme Court) * * * decisions there can be no doubt that the federal rule, as enunciated and applied by the Supreme Court, is that the federal courts, whether from a lack of jurisdiction or from the inappropriateness of the subject matter for judicial consideration, will not intervene in cases of this type to compel legislative reapportionment.' 179 F.Supp., at 826.

The court went on to express doubts as to the feasibility of the various possible remedies sought by the plaintiffs. 179 F.Supp., at 827—828. Then it made clear that its dismissal reflected a view not of doubt that violation of constitutional rights was alleged, but of a court's impotence to correct that violation:

'With the plaintiffs' argument that ...

To continue reading

Request your trial
5289 cases
  • Moody v. Flowers
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Middle District of Alabama
    • June 14, 1966
    ......'" (Emphasis added.) .         As we read Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 82 S.Ct. 691, 7 L.Ed.2d 663 (1962), and its progeny, to justify judicial penetration of the "political thicket," there must ......
  • McKinney v. United States Dept. of Treasury
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of International Trade
    • July 23, 1985
    ...or the fervor of his advocacy. "That concrete adverseness which sharpens the presentation of issues," Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186 at 204 82 S.Ct. 691, 703, 7 L.Ed.2d 663 (1962), is the anticipated consequence of proceedings commenced by one who has been injured in fact; it is not a permissi......
  • Reclaim Idaho v. Denney
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Idaho
    • August 23, 2021
    ...political question "is akin to the political question abstention doctrine of the federal court system which is outlined in Baker v. Carr , 369 U.S. 186, 82 S.Ct. 691, 7 L.Ed.2d 663 (1962). However, as presented here, the issue is more correctly viewed under the doctrine of separation of pow......
  • Xiao v. Reno
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of California
    • October 6, 1993
    ...Chief Justice Marshall's opinion in Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137, 165-67, 2 L.Ed. 60 (1803). Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 217, 82 S.Ct. 691, 710, 7 L.Ed.2d 663 (1962), sets forth the most complete statement of the political questions Prominent on the surface of any case held to......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
3 firm's commentaries
182 books & journal articles
  • Summers v. Earth Island Institute: Overhauling the Injury-in-Fact Test for Standing to Sue
    • United States
    • Louisiana Law Review No. 71-3, April 2011
    • April 1, 2011
    ...a discussion of the two types of injuries relevant to Summers—aesthetic and procedural injuries—see infra Part II.A. 13. Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 204 (1962). 14. Cass R. Sunstein, What’s Standing After Lujan Of Citizens, ―Injuries,‖ and Article III, 91 MICH. L. REV. 163, 170 (1992). 105......
  • Restoring the Proper Role of the Courts in Election Law: Toward a Reinvigoration of the Political Question Doctrine
    • United States
    • The Georgetown Journal of Law & Public Policy No. 20-2, April 2022
    • April 1, 2022
    ...worried about fraud from ballot harvesting, while Democrats feared that issues with mail-in balloting could disenfranchise voters). 6. 369 U.S. 186 (1962). 7. 139 S. Ct. 2484 (2019). 8. This doctrine derives its name from two cases: Anderson v. Celebrezze, 460 U.S. 780 (1983), and Burdick v......
  • Administering the National Environmental Policy Act
    • United States
    • Environmental Law Reporter No. 45-4, April 2015
    • April 1, 2015
    ...orders that “embody Presidential discretion as to political matters beyond the competence of the courts to adjudicate”); Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 217 (1962) (setting out criteria for identifying a political question that is not justiciable, including “an unusual need for unquestioning a......
  • Arbitrary and Capricious: the Dark Canon of the United States Supreme Court in Environmental Law
    • United States
    • Georgetown Environmental Law Review No. 33-1, October 2020
    • October 1, 2020
    ...Defenders of Wildlife, where it was dicta for a plurality opinion based on Article III considerations instead). 288. See Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 209 (1962) (redistricting involved politics but was not a “political question”). 2020] ARBITRARY AND CAPRICOUS 87 powers issue would magicall......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT