In case or controversy requirements, the courts are not allowed to hear cases that present a “political question.” This idea was Marbury v. Madison. But what makes up political questions? See the following case.

Baker v. Carr

369 U.S. 186 (1962).


Can the court hear the case?


There are several factors that could influence whether there is a political question:

  1. “A textually demonstrable constitutional commitment to the issue to a coordinate political department; or
  2. a lack of judicially discoverable and manageable standards for resolving it; or
  3. the impossibility of deciding without an initial policy determination of a kind clearly for nonjudicial discretion; or
  4. the impossibility of a court’s undertaking independent resolution without expressing lack of the respect due coordinate branches of government; or
  5. an unusual need for unquestioning adherence to a political decision already made; or
  6. the potentially of embarrassment from multifarious pronouncements by various departments on one question.

Yes, there are no political questions at issue here. Reversed and Remanded.


In 1901, the voting lines were drawn up for Tennessee. However, 60 years later, the lines had not changed and the plaintiffs are concerned that the additional growth has diluted the voice of the people. Therefore, they are requesting court aid to override the state and allow for redistricting of the area.


Although there are political aspect, the fact pattern does not bring into doubt any of the factors of political questions. As a result, there is not sufficient evidence to bar the case from progressing.

The dissent says that this is a political question because it is asking the courts to become involved in a highly emotional political debate. How? The parties are essentially asking the courts to determine if they have enough representation or not.

Additional Notes

The issue here its that Tennessee had not redone the district lines for over 60 years. As a result, votes were not equal. For example, 1 person would be elected out of 100 people in the district. In another district 1 person out of 500 people could be elected. As a result, the group of 100 have a larger voice.

This is not a political question because we are trying to get one person to have one vote. In other words, we are looking for equal protection.

It is a political question if:

  1. There are no manageable standards.
  2. The Constitution says that the issue is not for the court.
  3. Embarrassment of another branch of government (by a court decision).

The dissent here says that the these are political questions because it is saying that the states are becoming involved in the guarantee clause (a statement guaranteeing that the states are given the right to a republican form of government).

Ultimately, the courts here cherrypick what is a political question and what is not.

Rucho v. Common Cause

588 U.S. ___ (2019).


Can the court resolve this issue of partisan gerrymandering? How far is too far?


The court cannot address issues issues where the judicial branch lacks discoverable and manageable standards for resolving those issues.


This is a political question where the court does not have the ability to discovery and manage. Reversed with instructions to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction.


Maryland and North Carolina had both participated in partisan gerrymandering (drawing voting district maps to benefit one party over another by diluting the vote share of one party). Maryland benefits Democrats while North Carolina benefited Republicans.


The majority is simply arguing that this is a political question. Resolving partisan gerrymandering is not “manageable.” As a result, the courts should stay out of the issue, allowing the legislature to resolve the issues. The rest of the majority focuses on addressing the issues brought up by the dissent.


This is not like the one person one vote issue mentioned in Baker v. Carr. Additionally, it is not like racial gerrymandering. There is no constitutional issue like there was in racial gerrymandering. Additionally, proportionality (equal representation by population) was never a part of the Constitutional function at the founding.

Also, other cases in the past ruled this was a political question, so the court does not want to change those methods.

Another issue is that the court is not to decide what is “fair.” This gets to the political question part (not manageable). If the courts determine what is fair, this leaves things open to subjective analysis.

The majority refuses the “median map” proposed by the dissent. This was the suggestion that if you put a map into the computer, it will put out 3,000 maps and you choose the map right in the middle. Here, the court refuses this approach because the court would have to choose how far off the middle is “fair”. This gets into the issue above where this is not manageable.

Additionally, these issues have sorted themselves out in the past. People vote out those in charge regardless.


On the other hand, the dissent is not very happy with the majority. It states that this is not a political question, and even if it was, the courts had never before refused to resolve a constitutional issue. The claim is that refusing to address the issue is a refusal to address the lack of constitutionality of the maps. The argument is that there is a way to resolve the issue. There have been systems presented to remove the gerrymandering.

Apart from the majority, the dissent argues that there are manageable criteria. This is because the maps can be very easily created with accurate statistics. Once you follow the state criteria, then you can implement those maps.

Additional Notes

Just because a case has a political question does not mean that it will not be ruled on.

When an issue is lacking manageable criteria means that there is no way of knowing whether the approach provides a resolution means.

A large issue leading up to this case is that several cases in the past have determined that partisan gerrymandering is a political question and is not justiciable. Unfortunately, gerrymandering results in “rigged elections.”

Ultimately, the conflict is whether there is a manageable approach to resolving partisan gerrymandering.


The content contained in this article may contain inaccuracies and is not intended to reflect the opinions, views, beliefs, or practices of any academic professor or publication. Instead, this content is a reflection on the author’s understanding of the law and legal practices.

Will Laursen

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