This clause guarantees that states be governed in a “Republican” fashion. Obviously, this means that it is unconstitutional for a state to be governed by a monarch or a dictator. But beyond such extreme scenarios, it is not entirely clear what is minimally
required for a government to be considered Republican. What is
clear, however, is that the question is not one for the courts. The legal challenges brought against states under this clause generally result in the Supreme Court abdicating on the issue, declaring it a “political question,” and one for Congress and the Executive branch to decide. For example, in Luther v. Bordon (1849)
, the Court addressed the so-called “Dorr’s Rebellion.” Since its founding, Rhode Island had been governed by a charter that only permitted landholding men to vote. The disenfranchised men (women’s suffrage would be saved for a later date) held their own state constitutional convention and elected a man named Thomas Dorr to be the new governor of the state. Though two governments existed for a time, the leaders of this group were eventually arrested and the case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court, however, declined to decide the question of whether a state restricting its voter population to landowners was sufficiently Republican under the Guarantee Clause. Instead, it held that it was an issue for the other branches of government to decide. Though Rhode Island did eventually expand the right to vote, the notion of this question being political, and not judicial, in nature, has lasted.