The Warren Court (1953–69)

Racial Discrimination

Why is Baker v. Carr considered one of the most important decisions of the Warren Court?

Baker v. Carr allowed litigants to sue state officials in federal courts to reapportion or reorganize legislative districts to reflect a fairer balance of power between urban and rural areas. The case arose in Tennessee because state officials had refused to redraw legislative district boundaries, giving rural voters a much greater proportional share of voting power. The state argued that it did not have the authority to consider this political question. However, the Court ruled 6–2 that it had such authority: “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.” He concluded that “the right asserted is within the reach of judicial protection under the Fourteenth Amendment.” Chief Justice Earl Warren later called the decision “the most vital” of any during his tenure. He wrote in his memoirs: “The reason I am of the opinion that Baker v. Carr is so important is because I believe so devoutly that, to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln’s famous epigram, ours is a government of all the people, by all the people, and for all the people.” The decision directly led to a series of reapportionment cases, such as Reynolds v. Sims (1964).


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