Baker v. Carr (1962)


Baker v. Carr was a Supreme Court case that determined apportionment to be a judicable issue. Shelby County, Tennessee failed to reapportion legislative district lines in agreement with federal census records. Residents were left feeling as though their votes were diluted. Plaintiff, and Shelby County resident, Charles Baker, alleged that he was denied equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment, and sued Joe Carr, Tennessee’s Secretary of State. In a 6 – 2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the state of Tennessee was in violation of Constitutional law. Subsequent to this case, states across the country were now required to reapportion their legislative districts in order to reflect their population.  

First Timeline


Charles W. Baker and other Shelby County, Tennessee residents filed a lawsuit claiming that they were underrepresented in their legislative district. District lines were drawn unfairly, with most of the states representation reflecting rural areas, however, the majority of people were living in urban areas of the state. Unfortunately, this was a racially discriminatory practice that was common in many southern states. Due to federal census requirements, every ten years district lines should have been redrawn to reflect the amount of people being represented. Tenessee had not redrawn legislative district lines since 1901. Failure to reapportion their district lines left residents feeling deprived of their constitutional rights. Several years earlier the Supreme Court heard Colegrove v. Green (1946), a similar case involving malapportionment. However, Colegrove stated that he was being deprived of a republican form of government under Article IV, and the Supreme Court determined that to be a political question. Baker v. Carr challenged the apportionment of legislatures through the guarantee of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Procedural History

  1. Baker v. Carr went to district court. The court held that Baker v. Carr lacked jurisdiction. The case started in the district court in a middle Tennessee court and was sent to Supreme Court but the supreme court reversed the decision and remanded the lower court’s decision.
  2. The case was argued before the United States Supreme Court on April 19-20th, 1961. The typical time limit for oral arguments before the Supreme Court is one hour, however, the Court made an exception in Baker v. Carr and heard a total of three hours of oral arguments. 
  3. It was set to be reargued on May 1, 1961
  4.  Reargued on October 9, 1961
  5.  The case was decided on by the Supreme Court on March 26, 1962.


Do courts have the authority to rule on legislative apportionment through the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

Arguments by Petitioner

Arguments by Respondent


Yes, the Supreme Court does have authority to hear apportionment cases through the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In a 6-2 decision the Supreme Court held that legislative apportionment was not a political question, and therefore was judicable. Justice Brennan wrote the majority opinion of the court, essentially stating that dilution of votes was, in fact, denying the residents of Tennessee equal protection of the Fourteenth Amendment. Justice Douglas wrote a concurring opinion, stating that voters should have a full constitutional value of their vote. Justices Harlan and Frankfurter dissented stating that it was not up to the court to interfere with the state’s legislative apportionment.

Majority Opinion (Brennan)

Justice William J. Brennan Jr. delivered the majority opinion of the court. He wrote “We conclude that the complaint’s allegations of a denial of equal protection present a justiciable constitutional cause of action upon which appellants are entitled to a trial and a decision. The right asserted is within the reach of judicial protection under the Fourteenth Amendment.” The Supreme Court reversed and remanded Baker v. Carr. 

Concurring Opinion (Douglas)

Justice William O. Douglas wrote a concurring opinion. Douglas stated that if a voter’s’ rights were in any way being restricted, in that he does not have the full constitutional value of his vote, then that voter must be able to bring this to the attention of the court.

Dissenting Opinion (Frankfurter and Harlan)

Justices Frankfurter and Harlan II wrote in dissent, that it is within only the power of the states’ legislation to decide what is best suited for the people based on interests, and traditions of the people, and that the Equal Protection Clause was not designed to interfere with the structure of a states’ electoral policies.

Full Text Of Opinions

Decision Analysis


Significance/ Impact

Baker v. Carr established that apportionment cases were a judicable issue due to the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In Baker v. Carr the court laid the foundation for Reynolds v. Sims, and what would be known as “one person, one vote.” The Supreme Court’s decision in Baker ultimately forced Tennessee, and other states across the country, to reapportion their legislative districts based on current federal census population. 

Second Timeline

Scholarly Commentary and Debate


Constitutional Provisions

Amendment XIV

Section 1.

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.


Important Precedents

  • Luther v. Borden (1849) 
  • Colegrove v. Green (1946)

Important Subsequent Cases

Web Resources


Academic Book, Articles and Law Reviews

  • Epstein, Lee and Thomas G. Walker. Constitutional Law for a Changing America: Rights, Liberties and Justice. Washington, D.C: CQ Press, 2015.
  • Bonfield, Arthur Earl. “Baker v. Carr: New Light on the Constitutional Guarantee of Republican Government.” California Law Review 50, no. 2 (1962): 245-63



Summer 2016: Lindsey Nicholson, Ayesha Hussain, Mouctar Bokoum, Courtney Jones.

Tasks for Future Contributors

Future contributors, please revise the coding in the majority, concurring, and dissenting opinions.