395 U.S. 701 (1969), 705, Cipriano v. City of Houma
|Docket Nº:||No. 705|
|Citation:||395 U.S. 701, 89 S.Ct. 1897, 23 L.Ed.2d 647|
|Party Name:||Cipriano v. City of Houma|
|Case Date:||June 16, 1969|
|Court:||United States Supreme Court|
Argued April 24, 1969
APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
Louisiana law provides that only "property taxpayers" have the right to vote in elections called to approve the issuance of revenue bonds by a municipal utility system. At a special election, a majority of the property taxpayers approved a bond issue for the City of Houma's municipally owned utility systems. Within the period permitted to contest the election result, appellant, a nonproperty taxpayer otherwise qualified to vote, brought suit for himself and others similarly situated to enjoin the issuance of the bonds and to obtain a declaratory judgment that the limitation of the franchise to property taxpayers is unconstitutional. A three-judge District Court held the limitation constitutional.
1. The "property taxpayer" limitation on the franchise violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Kramer v. Union Free School District No. 15, ante, p. 621.
(a) Where the State grants the right to vote in a limited purpose election to some qualified voters and denies it to others, "the Court must determine whether the exclusions are necessary to promote a compelling state interest." Kramer, supra, at 627.
(b) Here, the benefits and burdens of the bond issue fall indiscriminately on property owner and nonproperty owner alike, and the classification thus unconstitutionally excludes otherwise qualified voters who are as substantially affected and directly interested in the matter voted on as those who are permitted to vote.
2. This decision will have prospective effect, and will apply only where the time for challenging the election result has not expired, or in cases brought within the time specified for challenging the election and which are not yet final.
286 F.Supp. 823, reversed and remanded.
Per curiam opinion.
In this case, we must determine whether provisions of Louisiana law which give only "property taxpayers" the right to vote in elections called to approve the issuance of revenue bonds by a municipal utility are constitutional. This case thus presents an issue similar to the one considered in Kramer v. Union Free School District No. 15, ante, p. 621. With one judge dissenting, a three-judge District Court determined that the Louisiana provisions were constitutional. However, as in Kramer, we find that the challenged provisions violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; we therefore reverse.
The Louisiana Constitution provides that the legislature may authorize municipalities to issue bonds "[f]or the purpose of constructing, acquiring, extending or improving any revenue-producing public utility." La.Const., Art. 14, § 14 (m). Pursuant to this provision, the legislature enacted legislation authorizing Louisiana municipalities to issue revenue bonds. La.Rev.Stat. § 33:4251 (1950).1 The legislature further provided, [89 S.Ct. 1899] however, that the municipalities could issue the bonds
only if they were approved by a "majority in number and amount of the property taxpayers qualified to vote . . . [who vote at the bond election]."2 La.Rev.Stat. § 39:501 (1950). See also La.Rev.Stat. §§ 33:4258, 39:508 (1950).
Appellee City of Houma owns and operates gas, water, and electric utility systems. In September, 1967, the city officials scheduled a special election to obtain voter approval for the issuance of $10,000,000 of utility revenue bonds. The city planned to finance extension and improvement of the municipally owned utility systems with the bond proceeds. At the special election, a majority "in number and amount" of the property taxpayers approved the bond issue. However, within the period provided by Louisiana law for contesting the result of the election, La.Rev.Stat. § 33:4260 (1950), this suit was instituted in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
Appellant alleged that he was a duly qualified voter3 of the City of Houma, and that he had been prevented from voting in the revenue bond election solely because he was not a property owner. He sued for himself and for a class of 6,926 nonproperty taxpayers otherwise qualified as City of Houma voters. Appellant sought to enjoin the issuance of the bonds approved at the special election and to obtain a declaratory judgment that the limitation of the franchise to property taxpayers is unconstitutional. A three-judge District Court was convened pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 2281, 2284. The
court then dismissed the suit, finding the Louisiana provisions constitutional. Cipriano v. City of Houma, 286 F.Supp. 823 (D.C.E.D.La.1968). Appellant brought a direct appeal to this Court, 28 U.S.C. § 1253; we noted probable jurisdiction. 393 U.S. 1061 (1969).
As we noted in Kramer, supra, if a challenged state statute grants the right to vote in a limited purpose election to some otherwise qualified voters and denies it to others,4 "the Court must determine whether the exclusions are necessary to promote a compelling state interest." Kramer v. Union Free School District No. 16, supra, at 627. Moreover, no less showing that the exclusions are necessary to promote a compelling state interest is required...
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