Lesson Plan: Landmark Supreme Court Case: Baker v Carr

Baker v. Carr: Background of the Case

Theodore Olson and Douglas Smith talked about the background of this case.


The Supreme Court has the power to interpret the Constitution. Its rulings on cases determine the meaning of laws and acts of Congress and the president. Knowing the key decisions of the Supreme Court and the precedents they set is vital in understanding the meaning of laws, how our country has changed over time, and the direction the country is currently headed. In this lesson students will examine the case of Baker v. Carr.


  • STEP 1.

    As a class, view the background video below and answer the questions to lay the foundation for students to understand this case.

  • VIDEO CLIP: Baker v. Carr: Background of the Case (2:30)

    • Describe the problem state legislatures faced with regard to this case.

    • Explain the question that was being addressed between the federal courts and the state of TN.
  • STEP 2.

    Students can either work independently or in groups to view the following video clips. They should take notes using the handout below:

    HANDOUT: Supreme Court Case: Baker v. Carr (Google Doc)

  • VIDEO CLIP: Parties Involved (2:19)

    • Explain the different parties who were involved in this case.
    • Describe the process of how this case made its way to the Supreme Court.
  • VIDEO CLIP: Two Questions before the Court (3:42)

    • What were the two questions the Supreme Court considered in this case?

    • Explain Charles Rhyne's background before joining the Baker team for the Supreme Court argument.

    • Explain the oral arguments presented by Charles Rhyne and Jack Wilson, TN Assistant Attorney General.
  • VIDEO CLIP: The First Conference (3:37)

    • Describe the room where the Supreme Court Justices conference about its cases.

    • Explain the events and results of the first conference in Baker v. Carr.
  • VIDEO CLIP: The Second Oral Argument (6:02)

    • Describe Justice Felix Frankfurter's point of view in the Baker v. Carr argument.

    • What was Attorney Charles Rhyne's counterargument?

    • Describe Justice William Brennan's point of view in the Baker v. Carr argument.

    • What was Tennessee Assistant Attorney General Jack Wilson's counterargument?

    • Explain how the Justices question during the oral argument in this and other cases. What is the purpose of this?
  • VIDEO CLIP: The Second Conference, Decision, and Dissent (7:52)

    • Describe the results of the conference following the re-arguing of Baker v. Carr.

    • Why were there only 8 justices for this decision?

    • Explain Justice William Brennan's majority opinion.

    • Explain Justice Felix Frankfurter's dissenting opinion.

    • What do Justice Felix Frankfurter's notes from the Baker v. Carr case illustrate about the case and his beliefs?
  • VIDEO CLIP: One Person, One Vote (4:16)

    • Explain the significance of the series of cases decided by the Supreme Court following the Baker v. Carr decision.

    • How did the cases cause a "revolution" in government according to Ted Olson?
  • VIDEO CLIP: Significance of the Case (6:02)

    • Explain why Chief Justice Warren believed this was the most important case during his term on the Supreme Court.

    • According to Mr. Olson, why was this a significant case?

    • According to Mr. Smith, what was at the heart of Baker v. Carr?

    • Explain the conditions and circumstances through which the Justices were able to hear this case.
  • STEP 3.

    As a class, discuss the significance of this case, the precedent it set, and its legacy.

  • STEP 4.

    Choose an activity from C-SPAN Classroom's Deliberations site to engage in a structured student-centered analysis of the case.

Additional Resource


  • 14th Amendment
  • Equal Protections Clause
  • League Of Women Voters
  • Malapportionment
  • Petition For Writ Of Certiorari
  • Reapportionment
  • Separation Of Powers


Judicial BranchSupreme Court Cases


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