393 U.S. 544 (1969), 3, Allen v. State Board of Elections

Docket Nº:No. 3
Citation:393 U.S. 544, 89 S.Ct. 817, 22 L.Ed.2d 1
Party Name:Allen v. State Board of Elections
Case Date:March 03, 1969
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 544

393 U.S. 544 (1969)

89 S.Ct. 817, 22 L.Ed.2d 1



State Board of Elections

No. 3

United States Supreme Court

March 3, 1969

Argued October 15, 1968




Pursuant to § 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 the provisions of § 4(a), suspending all "tests or devices" for five years, were made applicable to certain States, including Mississippi and Virginia. As a result, those States were prohibited by § 5 from enacting or seeking

to administer any voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure with respect to voting different from that in force or effect on November 1, 1964,

without first submitting the change to the U.S. Attorney General and obtaining his consent or securing a favorable declaratory judgment from the District Court for the District of Columbia. In Nos. 25, 26, and 36, appellants sought declaratory judgments in the District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi that certain amendments to the Mississippi Code were subject to the provisions of § 5, and thus not enforceable until the State complied with the approval requirements. In No. 25, the amendment provided for at-large election of county supervisors instead of election by districts. In No. 26, the amendment eliminated the option of electing or appointing superintendents of education in 11 counties and provided that they shall be appointed. The amendment in No. 36 changed the requirements for independent candidates running in general elections. In all three cases, the three-judge District Court ruled that the amendments did not come within the purview of § 5, and dismissed the complaints. No. 3 concerned a bulletin issued by the Virginia Board of Elections instructing election judges to assist qualified, illiterate voters who request assistance in marking ballots. Appellants sought a declaratory judgment in the District Court for the Eastern District of

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Virginia that the statute providing for handwritten write-in votes and the modifying bulletin violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Voting Rights Act. In the 1966 election, appellants attempted to use labels for write-in candidates, but the election officials refused to count appellants' ballots. Appellants sought only prospective relief, as the election outcome would not have been changed if the ballots had been counted. In the District Court, they did not argue that § 5 precluded enforcement of the procedure set out in the bulletin, but that § 4 suspended the write-in requirement. The three-judge court dismissed the complaint.


1. Since the Virginia legislation was generally attacked as inconsistent with the Voting Rights Act, and there is no factual dispute, the Court may, in the interests of judicial economy, determine the applicability in No. 3 of § 5 of the Act, even though that section was not argued below. P. 554.

2. Private litigants may invoke the jurisdiction of the district courts to obtain relief under § 5, to insure the Act's guarantee that no person shall be denied the right to vote for failure to comply with an unapproved new enactment subject to that section. Pp. 554-557.

3. The restriction of § 14(b) of the Act, which provides that

[n]o court other than the District Court for the District of Columbia . . . shall have jurisdiction to issue any declaratory judgment pursuant to [§ 5] or any restraining order or temporary or permanent injunction against the execution or enforcement of any provision of this subchapter,

does not apply to suits brought by private litigants seeking a declaratory judgment that a new state enactment is subject to § 5's approval requirements, and these actions may be brought in the local district courts. Pp. 557-560.

4. In light of the extraordinary nature of the Act and its effect on federal-state relationships, and the unique approval requirements of § 5, which also provides that "[a]ny action under this section shall be heard and determined by a court of three judges," disputes involving the coverage of § 5 should be determined by three-judge courts. Pp. 560-563.

5. The state statutes involved in these cases are subject to the approval requirements of § 5. Pp. 563-571.

(a) The Act, which gives a broad interpretation to the right to vote and recognizes that voting includes "all action necessary

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to make a vote effective " was aimed at the subtle, as well as the obvious, state regulations which have the effect of denying citizens their right to vote because of race. Pp. 565-566.

(b) The legislative history lends support to the view that Congress intended to reach any enactment which altered the election law of a covered State in even a minor way. Pp. 566-569.

(c) There is no direct conflict between the Court's interpretation of this Act and the principles established by the reapportionment cases, and consideration of any possible conflict should await a concrete case. P. 569.

(d) The enactment in each of these cases constitutes a "voting qualification or prerequisite to voting or standard practice or procedure with respect to voting" within the meaning of § 5. Pp. 569-571.

6. The Act requires that the State must in some unambiguous and recordable manner submit any legislation or regulation to the Attorney General with a request for his consideration pursuant to the Act, and there is no "submission" when the Attorney General merely becomes aware of the legislation or when briefs are served on him. P. 571.

7. In view of the complexity of these issues of first impression, the lack of deliberate defiance of the Act resulting from the States' failure to submit the enactments for approval, and the fact that the discriminatory purpose or effect of these statutes, if any, has not been judicially determined, this decision has prospective effect only. The States remain subject to the continuing strictures of § 5 until they obtain from the District Court for the District of Columbia a declaratory judgment that, for at least five years, they have not used the "tests or devices" proscribed by § 4. Pp. 571-572.

No. 3, 268 F.Supp. 218, vacated and remanded. No. 25, 282 F.Supp. 164; No. 26, 281 F.Supp. 918; and No. 36 each reversed and remanded.

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WARREN, J., lead opinion

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WARREN delivered the opinion of the Court.

These four cases, three from Mississippi and one from Virginia, involve the application of the Voting Rights Act of 19651 to state election laws and regulations. The Mississippi cases were consolidated on appeal and argued together in this Court. Because of the grounds on which we decide all four cases, the appeal in the Virginia case is also disposed of by this opinion.2

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In South Carolina v. Katzenbach, 383 U.S. 301 (1966), we held the provisions of the Act involved in these cases to be constitutional. These cases merely require us to determine whether the various state enactments involved are subject to the requirements of the Act.

We gave detailed treatment to the history and purposes of the Voting Rights Act in South Carolina v. Katzenbach, supra. Briefly, the Act implemented Congress' firm intention to rid the country of racial discrimination in voting. It provided stringent new remedies against those practices which have most frequently denied citizens the right to vote on the basis of their race. Thus, in States covered by the Act,3 literacy tests and similar voting qualifications were suspended for a period of five years from the last occurrence of substantial voting discrimination. However, Congress apparently feared that the mere suspension of existing tests would not [89 S.Ct. 823] completely solve the problem, given the history some States had of simply enacting new and slightly different requirements with the same discriminatory effect.4 Not underestimating the ingenuity of those bent on preventing Negroes from voting, Congress therefore enacted § 5, the focal point of these cases.

Under § 5, if a State covered by the Act passes any "voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure with respect to voting different from that in force or effect on November 1, 1964," no person can be deprived of his right to vote "for failure to comply with" the new enactment "unless and until" the State seeks and receives a declaratory judgment in the United States District Court for the District of

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Columbia that the new enactment "does not have the purpose and will not have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color." 79 Stat. 439, 42 U.S.C. § 1973c (1964 ed. Supp. I). See Appendix, infra.

However, § 5 does not necessitate that a covered State obtain a declaratory judgment action before it can enforce any change in its election laws. It provides that a State may enforce a new enactment if the State submits the new provision to the Attorney General of the United States and, within 30 days of the submission, the Attorney General does not formally object to the new statute or regulation. The Attorney General does not act as a court in approving or disapproving the state legislation. If the Attorney General objects to the new enactment, the State may still enforce the legislation upon securing a declaratory judgment in the District Court for the District of Columbia. Also, the State is not required to first submit the new enactment to the Attorney General, as it may go directly to the District Court for the District of Columbia. The provision for submission to the Attorney General merely gives the covered State a rapid method of rendering a new state election law enforceable.5 Once the State has successfully complied with the § 5 approval requirements, private parties may enjoin the enforcement of the new enactment only in traditional

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suits attacking its...

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