ONE MAN, ONE VOTE: Baker v. Carr and the American Levellers by Gene S. Graham

ONE MAN, ONE VOTE: Baker v. Carr and the American Levellers

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Former Chief Justice Earl Warren has called Baker v. Carr the most important case decided while he was on the bench, and this lively history of the politics, personalities and law behind the legislative reapportionment decision fully validates its landmark status. During the first half of the century, shifts in population density produced unequal representation in many state legislatures. A rural assemblyman might represent hundreds of voters while his urban counterpart represented thousands, but the over-represented rural areas were understandably reluctant to give up their power by reapportioning legislative membership to reflect actual population distribution. For years the courts were prevented from dealing with this issue by Justice Frankfurter's ""political thicket"" doctrine; the question was considered to be the province of the legislative branch. Graham traces the legal battles of Tennessee reformers to defeat the rural oligarchy, which culminated in the Baker decision that acknowledged jurisdiction over the issue, opening the way for judicially mandated reapportionment. He argues that these reformers were the spiritual kin of the English Levellers, the radical Protestants whose belief in equality, suffrage and parliamentary reform helped depose Charles I. Despite the subtitle the comparison is not central to the book, serving primarily to emphasize the significance of the one-man-one-vote movement, which Graham regards as ""among the most important developments in the world's history of egalitarian ideas."" Graham is at his best discussing people and politics although his delineation of the substantive legal issues is also skillful. His treatment of procedural questions is occasionally sketchy, glossing over such technicalities as the mechanism of certiorari, and one might wish for a more detailed treatment of the legal (as opposed to the political) considerations underlying the reluctance of the courts to enter the political thickets. Not in the same league with Anthony Lewis' Gideon's Trumpet (1964), but nonetheless an informative, stimulating book.

Pub Date: Nov. 7th, 1972
Publisher: Little, Brown -- A.M.P.