Smith (Managing White Supremacy: Race, Politics, and Citizenship in Jim Crow Virginia, 2002, etc.) uses the fight for “one person, one vote” to explain the workings of the Supreme Court.
The book is invaluable for anyone who wishes to understand the court, especially those who aren’t familiar with legal jargon. The author clearly explains the procedures that led up to and followed each case. It’s not just three hours of presentation, a vote and opinions delivered; the nine justices and their clerks devote countless hours to each and every case. The cases brought to the Warren Court against state legislatures all concern disproportionate representation of place over population, with rural areas exerting more control than highly populated cities. Decennial reapportionment requirements were ignored, and the few controlled the many. The first and most cited decision was Colgrove v. Green (1946), in which the court denied its jurisdiction over state legislatures. It wasn’t until 1959 in Baker v. Carr that the court accepted its role. In case after case, the court faced the decision of whether it could apply the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause or hide behind the 15th’s right to vote despite race and other factors. The author takes us through five important cases of 1963 without legal droning or prolix explanations. Even after the court decision requiring “one person, one vote” for both houses of state legislatures, Sen. Everett Dirksen of Illinois attempted to pass resolutions against the ruling and even proposed a constitutional convention. Still, malapportionment’s evil twin, gerrymandering, along with the current trend of “one dollar, one vote,” often succeeds in tilting the balance of power.
Smith gives us the knowledge that imparts the power to change and, more importantly, the hope that it can succeed.