Constitutional Pluralism and Democratic Politics: Reflections on the Interpretive Approach of Baker v. Carr

Guy-Uriel E. Charles, Constitutional Pluralism and Democratic Politics: Reflections on the Interpretive Approach of Baker v. Carr, 80 N.C. L. Rev. 1103 (2002).

Abstract:  Baker v. Carr is one of the Supreme Court’s most important opinions, not least because its advent signaled the constitutionalization of democracy. Unfortunately, as is typical of the Court’s numerous forays into democratic politics, the decision is not accompanied by an apparent vision of the relationship among democratic practice, constitutional law, and democratic theory. In this Article, I revisit Baker and provide several democratic principles that I argue justifies the Court’s decision to engage the democratic process. I examine the decision from the perspective of one of its chief contemporary critics, Justice Frankfurter. I sketch an approach, described as constitutional pluralism, for thinking about Baker and other cases involving judicial supervision of democratic politics. Using constitutional pluralism as an interpretive tool, I argue that the aim of judicial involvement in democratic politics ought to be to vindicate specific democratic principles. I describe the conditions under which the federal courts should respect the judgment of democratic actors.

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