Reapportionment & Liberal Myths

Commentary (June 1963).


In the decade since Earl Warren became Chief Justice of the United States, the Court over which he presides has embarked on three major enterprises of social reform—a number higher than the historical average for comparable periods, to say the least. The reforms in question are the desegregation of public schools; the restriction, and even, it would seem, the abolition of practices of religious observance in those schools; and the reapportionment of state legislatures and perhaps also of Congress. The earliest of these reforms, desegregation, has survived an extremely serious political challenge, and now promises to move forward along well-defined lines toward a goal that is widely acceptable and nowhere misunderstood. The second, concerning school prayers, seems likely to face an equally serious challenge, which it may fail to survive. Though still in need of more than a little clarification, the goal of this reform is at any rate capable of being proclaimed in principled terms and of commanding deliberate adherence as well as opposition. The third reforming enterprise, reapportionment, differs from desegregation and school prayers—and is, indeed, not quite like anything else in the recorded experience of the Supreme Court—in that the decision that launched it a year ago (Baker v. Carr) has evoked a speedy, ample, and largely favorable response, although nobody understands what the decision means or can know where it will, or was intended to, lead.