Bench Memos

Law & the Courts

This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—February 17

The U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., June 11, 2018 (Erin Schaff/Reuters)

1964—In Wesberry v. Sanders, the Supreme Court somehow extracts from the provision in Article I, section 2, that members of the House of Representatives be chosen “by the People of the several States” a supposed mandate that congressional districts in each state have, as nearly as practicable, equal populations.

In dissent, Justice Harlan lambastes the majority opinion as “unsound logically on its face, and demonstrably unsound historically.” He explains that Article I, section 4 confers on each state “plenary power to select their allotted Representatives in accordance with any method of popular elections they please, subject only to the supervisory power of Congress.” He closes by observing that the Constitution “does not confer on the Court blanket authority to step into every situation where the political branch may be thought to have fallen short,” and by warning that the Court’s “stability” depends “not only on its being alert to keep the other branches of government within constitutional bounds, but equally upon recognition of the limitations on the Court’s own functions in the constitutional system.”

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