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The Political Thicket

When Chief Justice Earl Warren was asked at the end of his career, “What was the most important case of your tenure?”, there were a lot of answers he could have given. After all, he had presided over some of the most important decisions in the court’s history — cases that dealt with segregation in schools, the right to an attorney, the right to remain silent, just to name a few. But his answer was a surprise: He said, “Baker v. Carr,” a 1962 redistricting case. 

On this episode of More Perfect, we talk about why this case was so important; important enough, in fact, that it pushed one Supreme Court justice to a nervous breakdown, brought a boiling feud to a head, put one justice in the hospital, and changed the course of the Supreme Court — and the nation — forever.

Associate Justice William O. Douglas (L) and Associate Justice Felix Frankfurter (R) (Harris & Ewing Photography/Library of Congress)
Top Row (left-right): Charles E. Whittaker, John M. Harlan,William J. Brennan, Jr., Potter Stewart. Bottom Row (left-right): William O. Douglas, Hugo L. Black, Earl Warren, Felix Frankfurter, Tom C. Clark. (Library of Congress)


Associate Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Whittaker at his desk in his chambers. (Heywood Davis)

 The key links:

- Biographies of Charles Evans Whittaker, Felix Frankfurter, and William O. Douglas from Oyez
- A biography of Charles Evans Whittaker written by Craig Alan Smith
- A biography of Felix Frankfurter written by H.N. Hirsch
- A biography of William O. Douglas written by Bruce Allen Murphy
- A book about the history of "one person, one vote" written by J. Douglas Smith
- A roundtable discussion on C-SPAN about Baker v. Carr

The key voices:

Craig Smith, Charles Whittaker's biographer and Professor of History and Political Science at California University of Pennsylvania
- Tara Grove, Professor of Law and Robert and Elizabeth Scott Research Professor at William & Mary Law School
- Louis Michael Seidman, Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Constitutional Law at Georgetown Law
- Guy-Uriel Charles, Charles S. Rhyne Professor of Law at Duke Law
- Samuel Issacharoff, Bonnie and Richard Reiss Professor of Constitutional Law, NYU Law
- J. Douglas Smith, author of "On Democracy's Doorstep"
- Alan Kohn, former Supreme Court clerk for Charles Whittaker, 1957 Term
- Kent Whittaker, Charles Whittaker's son
- Kate Whittaker, Charles Whittaker's granddaughter

The key cases:

- 1962: Baker v. Carr
- 2000: Bush v. Gore
- 2016: Evenwel v. Abbott

Music in this episode by Gyan Riley, Alex Overington, David Herman, Tobin Low and Jad Abumrad

More Perfect is funded in part by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, The Charles Evans Hughes Memorial Foundation, and the Joyce Foundation.

Supreme Court archival audio comes from Oyez®, a free law project in collaboration with the Legal Information Institute at Cornell.

Archival interviews with Justice William O. Douglas come from the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at Princeton University Library.

Special thanks to Whittaker's clerks: Heywood Davis, Jerry Libin and James Adler. Also big thanks to Jerry Goldman at Oyez.

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