Baker v. Carr | Study Guide

United States Supreme Court

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United States Supreme Court

Year Decided



Primary Source


U.S. Supreme Court Case

At a Glance

  • Tennessee's constitution, like most U.S. state constitutions, includes rules governing the conduct of elections. Among these is a stipulation that state representatives be reapportioned every 10 years to address population changes, a process known as redistricting.
  • Initially, the Tennessee legislature passed a new reapportionment law every decade. After 1901, however, the passage of such laws stopped, and the apportionment remained fixed for decades. By 1960 there was a serious mismatch between the populations of electoral districts and the number of representatives elected.
  • Claiming that their voting rights had been unconstitutionally "diluted," a group of Tennessee voters, including Charles W. Baker, sued the state to force a new reapportionment.
  • A district court found Baker's claim nonjusticiable—not testable in court. The Supreme Court disagreed, finding that matters relating to redistricting are justiciable.
  • In rendering its decision, the Supreme Court established broad jurisdiction for federal courts in matters of state electoral representation. Two years later, in Reynolds v. Sims (1964), this was codified as "one person, one vote."
  • Baker and Reynolds legitimized a state-by-state redrawing of electoral districts to decrease questionable disparities in voting strength. Since then state legislatures have often engaged in bitter partisan conflicts over how to implement the "one person, one vote" directive.


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