Former Chief Justice Warren has Tennessee case at top of his list

Monday, June 29, 2009 at 12:00am

One of the most important cases heard by the U.S. Supreme Court was the landmark case of Baker v. Carr. The case had its roots in Tennessee and was originally filed by Memphis Republican Charles Baker, who took issue over the fact that the Tennessee General Assembly had not redrawn legislative boundaries since 1901.

What that meant was that urban areas, which had seen major population increases, were underrepresented in the state legislature.

Headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren, the court ruled in favor of Baker and laid the foundation for what is referred to as "one man, one vote."

Warren, who served from 1953-1969, said the Baker v. Carr case was the most important case heard by the court during his time on the bench. His opinion on the importance of the case is interesting due to other cases heard during his era.

Here are just a few of those cases heard on Warren’s watch and a brief description of their facts.

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (Kan.) (1954) — overturned earlier Supreme Court rulings going back to the 1896 case of Plessy v. Ferguson, by declaring that state laws that established separate public schools for black and white students denied black children equal educational opportunities.

Baker v. Carr (1962) — This is the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that began in Tennessee. It changed the court's political question doctrine, and decided that the way legislative and political boundaries are drawn do present questions that can be heard in court. The ruling enabled federal courts to hear and decide reapportionment cases.

Gideon v. Wainwright (1963) — In this case, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that state courts are required by the Constitution to provide counsel in criminal cases for defendants unable to afford their own attorneys.

Reynolds v. Sims (1964) — The court ruled that legislative districts had to be roughly equal in population. Before Reynolds, rural counties were often drastically underrepresented. One urban state senate seat in Alabama had a population 41 times greater than that of a rural one.

Miranda v. Arizona (1966) — The court held that statements made in response to interrogation by a defendant in police custody would be admissible at trial only if the prosecution could show that the defendant was informed of the right to consult with an attorney before and during questioning and of the right against self-incrimination prior to questioning by police, and that the defendant not only understood these rights, but voluntarily waived them.