The Supreme Court and Election Law: Judging Equality from Baker v. Carr to Bush v. Gore

By Richard L. Hasen | Go to book overview

Introduction

Mighty Platonic Guardians

We would be mighty Platonic guardians indeed if Congress had
granted us the authority to determine the best form of local govern-
ment for every county, city, village, and town in America.

Holder v. Hall, Justice Thomas, concurring.1

Supreme Court intervention in the political process has become a regular feature of the American political landscape. To give a few examples, the Court has required the reapportionment of virtually every legislative body in the country to comply with the principle of “one person, one vote”; ended the practice of political patronage employment; prevented local governments, states, and the federal government from limiting campaign spending in the name of political equality; curtailed the extent to which legislatures may take race into account in drawing district lines; and most recently (and, some would add, notoriously) determined the outcome of the 2000 presidential election.2

Though such intervention now seems commonplace, it was not always so common. In the period 1901–1960, the Court decided an average of 10.3 election law cases per decade with a written opinion. During the period 1961–2000, that number jumped to 60 per decade. Figure I-1 shows the trend.3 The numbers are equally dramatic in Figure I-2, which displays the percentage of election law cases on the Court's docket. In the 1901–1960 period, on average only 0.7 percent of cases the Court decided by written opinion were election law cases. During the 1961–2000 period, that percentage increased seven and one-half times to an average 5.3 percent of cases.

-1-

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