Allen v. State Board of Elections Fairley v. Patterson Bunton v. Patterson Whitley v. Williams 36

Decision Date03 March 1969
Docket Number26,Nos. 3,25,s. 3
Citation89 S.Ct. 817,393 U.S. 544,22 L.Ed.2d 1
PartiesRichard ALLEN et al., Appellants, v. STATE BOARD OF ELECTIONS et al. J. C. FAIRLEY et al., Appellants, v. Joe T. PATTERSON et al. Charles E. BUNTON et al., Appellants, v. Joe T. PATTERSON et al. Clifton WHITLEY et al., Appellants, v. John Bell WILLIAMS et al. , and 36
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

[Syllabus from pages 544-546 intentionally omitted] Norman C. Amaker, New York City, for appellants Allen and others.

R. D. McIllwaine, III, Richmond, Va., for appellees State Bd. of Elections and others.

Armand Derfner, Jackson, Miss., and Elliott C. Lichtman, Washington, D.C., for appellants Fairley and all others.

Stephen J. Pollak, Washington, D.C., for the United States, as amicus curiae, by special leave of Court.

William A. Allain and Will S. Wells, Jackson, Miss., for appellees Patterson and all others.

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 In South Carolina v. Katzenbach, 383 U.S. 301, 86 S.Ct. 803, 15 L.Ed.2d 769 (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 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 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 60 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 suits attacking its constitutionality; there is no further remedy provided by § 5.

In these four cases, the States have passed new laws or issued new regulations. The central issue is whether these provisions fall within the prohibition of § 5 that prevents the enforcement of 'any voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure with respect to voting' unless the State first complies with one of the section's approval procedures.

No. 25, Fairley v. Patterson, involves a 1966 amendment to § 2870 of the Mississippi Code of 1942.6 The amendment provides that the board of supervisors of each county may adopt an order providing that board members be elected at large by all qualified electors of the county. Prior to the 1966 amendment, all counties by law were divided into five districts; each district elected one member of the board of supervisors. After the amendment, Adams and Forrest Counties adopted the authorized orders, specifying that each candidate must run at large, but also requiring that each candidate be a resident of the county district he seeks to represent.

The appellants are qualified electors and potential candidates in the two counties. They sought a declaratory judgment in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi that the amendment to § 2870 was subject to the provisions of § 5 of the Act and hence could not be enforced until the State complied with the approval requirements of § 5.7

No. 26, Bunton v. Patterson, concerns a 1966 amendment to § 6271—08 of the Mississippi Code.8 The amend- ment provides that in 11 specified counties, the county superintendent of education shall be appointed by the board of education. Before the enactment of this amendment, all these counties had the option of electing or appointing the superintendent. Appellants are qualified electors and potential candidates for the position of county superintendent of education in three of the counties covered by the 1966 amendment. They sought a declaratory judgment that the amendment was subject to § 5, and thus unenforceable unless the State complied with the § 5 approval requirements.

No. 36, Whitley v. Williams, involves a 1966 amendment to § 3260 of the Mississippi Code, which changed the requirements for independent candidates running in general elections.9 The amendment makes four revisions: (1) it establishes a new rule that no person who has voted in a primary election may thereafter be placed on the ballot as an independent candidate in the general election; (2) the time for filing a petition as an independent candidate is changed to 60 days before the primary election from the previous 40 days before the general election; (3) the number of signatures of qualified electors needed for the independent qualifying petition is increased substantially; and (4) a new provision is added that each qualified elector who signs the independent qualifying petition must personally sign the petition and must include his polling precinct and county. Appellants are potential candidates whose nominating petitions for independent listing on the ballot were rejected for failure to comply with one or more of the amended provisions.10 I all three of these cases, the three-judge District Court ruled that the amendments to the Mississippi Code did not come within the purview of and are not covered by § 5, and dismissed the complaints.11 Appellants brought direct appeals to this Court.12 We consolidated the cases and postponed consideration of jurisdiction to a hearing on the merits. 392 U.S. 902, 88 S.Ct. 2052, 20 L.Ed.2d 1361 (1968).

No. 3, Allen v. State Board of Elections, concerns a bulletin issued by the Virginia Board of Elections to all election judges. The bulletin was an attempt to modify the provisions of § 24—252 of the Code of Virginia of 1950 which provides, inter alia, that 'any voter (may) place on the official ballot the name of any person in his own handwriting * * *.'13 The Virginia Code (§ 24 251) further provides that voters with a physical incapacity may be assisted in preparing their ballots. For example, one who is blind may be aided in the preparation of his ballot by a person of his choice. Those unable to mark their ballots due to any other physical disability may be assisted by one of the election judges. However, no statutory provision is made for assistance to those who wish to write in a name, but who are unable to do so because of illiteracy. When Virginia was brought under the coverage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Virginia election offficials apparently thought that the provision in § 24—252, requiring a voter to cast a write-in vote in the voter's own handwriting was incompatible with the provisions of § 4(a) of the Act suspending the enforcement of any test or device as a prerequisite to voting.14 Therefore, the Board of Elections issued a bulletin to all election judges, instructing that the election judge could aid any qualified voter in the preparation of his ballot, if the voter so requests and if the voter is unable to mark his ballot due to illiteracy.15

Appellants are functionally illiterate registered voters from the Fourth Congressional District of Virginia. They brought a declaratory judgment action in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, claiming that § 24—252 and the modifying bulletin violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. A three-judge court was convened and the...

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