Block on Trump's Asylum Ban Upheld by Supreme Court
Welcome to our second 'More Perfect' recap, a look at the most interesting historical tidbits from NPR's new Supreme Court-focused podcast. Today's episode delves into the story behind Baker v. Carr, the landmark case that gave us "one man, one vote," rejecting the argument that legislative redistricting was an issue reserved for politicians, not courts. And, according to "More Perfect," it's a case that drove one justice from the bench and may have killed another.
It's a timely history, too, given the resurgence of electoral battles in the past months. In April, the Supreme Court rejected the contention that "one man, one vote" meant "one voter, one vote," throwing out a challenge redistricting in Texas. And voting rights continue to be a source of controversy in the courts. In the past few weeks, appellate courts have thrown out restrictive voting laws in Texas, North Dakota, and North Carolina.
Before we dive in, an aside about this episode's premise: Baker v. Carr is described as "a little case" decision, but also the "Pandora's box" that lead to Supreme Court politicization. That's a bit simplistic, to say the least. Practitioners might remember that just 25 years before Baker v. Carr, F.D.R. had threatened to pack the Supreme Court in order to end the court's rejection of his New Deal plans, or that way back in 1804, Justice Samuel Chase became the only Supreme Court justice to ever be impeached, on accusations that he ruled based on politics, not law -- just to give two examples.
But, hey it's pop law, not a master's course in Supreme Court history.
So why the focus on Baker v. Carr at all? It's the case Chief Justice Warren cited, way back in 1969, as the most important of his career. And it not only popped open that Pandora's box (or not), according to this episode of "More Perfect," the case ruined one, possibly two, Supreme Court justices.
Tasked with balancing the limits of court intervention in the electoral system with civil rights of voters, Justice Charles Whittaker, the Court's moderate swing vote, an early-day Justice Kennedy, was driven to a nervous breakdown. Indeed, he left the Court because of the case. And one of Whittaker's main tormentors, and one of the Court's strongest opponents to the outcome in Baker v. Carr, Justice Frankfurter, may have even died because of the case.
Frankfurter had a stroke not too long after. According to Archibald Cox, he blamed it on his loss in Baker v. Carr.
Justice Douglas did fine, though. He went on to become the longest serving Supreme Court justice ever.
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