Daniel v. Sanchez

Citation101 S.Ct. 2224,452 U.S. 130,68 L.Ed.2d 724
Decision Date01 June 1981
Docket NumberNo. 80-180,80-180
PartiesW. C. McDANIEL et al., Petitioners, v. Jose SANCHEZ et al
CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Syllabus

After holding that the apportionment plan for precincts from which county commissioners were elected to serve on the Commissioners Court for Kleberg County, Tex., was unconstitutional because of substantial population variances in the precincts, the District Court directed county officials to submit a proposed reapportionment plan to the court. The Commissioners Court then employed an expert to prepare a new plan and subsequently adopted his plan and submitted it to the District Court. The court approved the plan and authorized the Commissioners Court to conduct 1980 primary and general elections under it, rejecting respondents' contention that § 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (Act) required the county, a jurisdiction covered by the Act, to obtain preclearance from either the Attorney General of the United States or the United States District Court for the District of Columbia before the plan could become effective. The Court of Appeals vacated the District Court's order, holding that "[a] proposed reapportionment plan submitted by a local legislative body does not lose its status as a legislative rather than court-ordered plan merely because it is the product of litigation conducted in a federal forum," and that the Act required preclearance.

Held : Congress intended to require compliance with the statutory preclearance procedures under the circumstances of this case. Whenever a covered jurisdiction submits a proposal reflecting the policy choices of the elected representatives of the people—no matter what constraints have limited the choices available to them—the preclearance requirement of the Act is applicable. Pp. 137-153.

(a) The statement in East Carroll Parish School Board v. Marshall, 424 U.S. 636, 96 S.Ct. 1083, 47 L.Ed.2d 296—which held that a court-adopted reapportionment plan suggested by the local legislative body there involved was a judicial plan for purposes of substantive review—that the plan was also a judicial plan for purposes of § 5 preclearance was dictum and does not control this case. Pp. 139-146.

(b) The language of § 5 does not unambiguously answer the question, but the legislative history of the 1975 amendments of the Act shows that it was intended that the statutory protections are to be available even when redistricting by the governmental body is ordered by a federal court to remedy a constitutional violation that has been established in pending federal litigation. Pp. 146-153.

615 F.2d 1023, affirmed.

Richard A. Hall, Corpus Christi, Tex., for petitioners.

Robert J. Parmley, Alice, Tex., for respondents.

Lawrence G. Wallace, Washington, D. C., for the United States as amicus curiae, by special leave of Court.

Justice STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.

We granted certiorari to decide whether the preclearance requirement of § 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as amended,1 applies to a reapportionment plan submitted to a Federal District Court by the legislative body of a covered jurisdiction 2 in response to a judicial determination that the existing apportionment of its electoral districts is unconstitutional. Relying on East Carroll Parish School Board v. Marshall, 424 U.S. 636, 96 S.Ct. 1083, 47 L.Ed.2d 296 (per curiam), the District Court held that the plan submitted to it in this case was a judicial plan and thus excepted from the requirements of § 5. Relying on Wise v. Lipscomb, 437 U.S. 535, 98 S.Ct. 2493, 57 L.Ed.2d 411, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed; it held that because the plan had been prepared by a legislative body, it was a legislative plan within the coverage of § 5. We are persuaded that Congress intended to require compliance with the statutory preclearance procedures under the circumstances of this case. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

The covered jurisdiction in this case is Kleberg County, a rural county in Texas. Under Texas law, a Commissioners Court, which is composed of four county commissioners presided over by the county judge, is authorized to govern Kleberg County. The county is divided periodically by the Commissioners Court into four commissioners' precincts, each of which elects a resident to the position of county commissioner. The county judge is elected at large. The county commissioners and the county judge serve 4-year terms.3

In January 1978, four Mexican-American residents of Kleberg County brought this class action against various county officials alleging that the apportionment of the four commissioners' precincts denied individual residents of the larger precincts a vote of equal weight, and unconstitutionally diluted the voting strength of the county's substantial Mexican-American population.4 After a trial,5 the District Court re- jected the plaintiffs' claim that the county's apportionment plan unconstitutionally diluted the voting power of Mexican-Americans as a class, but held that individual voters were denied equal representation because of the substantial disparity in the number of residents in each commissioners' precinct.6 The District Court therefore directed the county officials to submit a proposed reapportionment plan to the court within six weeks, and scheduled a hearing on the validity of the proposal for four weeks thereafter.7

Pursuant to the District Court's order, the Commissioners Court undertook the task of devising a new apportionment plan. The Commissioners Court employed Dr. Robert Nash, a statistician and the Dean of the College of Business at Texas A. & I. University, to prepare a new plan, instructing him to define the commissioners' precincts "on a one-person/one-vote basis." 8 With one insignificant modifica- tion, the9Commissioners Court officially adopted the plan prepared by Dr. Nash as the plan it would submit to the District Court.

Respondents objected to the proposed plan. They challenged the data used by the Dean, they claimed that the plan diluted the voting strength of Mexican-Americans, and they contended that the Voting Rights Act required the county to obtain preclearance from the Attorney General of the United States or the United States District Court for the District of Columbia before the plan could become effective.10 After an evidentiary hearing, the District Court rejected both of respondents' factual contentions, and held as a matter of law that the Voting Rights Act did not require preclearance. The court entered an order approving the new plan and authorizing the Commissioners Court to conduct the 1980 primary and general elections under it. See App. to Pet. for Cert. A-21 to A-23.

Without expressing any opinion with respect to the constitutionality of the new plan, the Court of Appeals vacated the District Court's order in a per curiam opinion. See 615 F.2d 1023 (1980). Reasoning that "[a] proposed reapportionment plan submitted by a local legislative body does not lose its status as a legislative rather than court-ordered plan merely because it is the product of litigation conducted in a federal forum," id., at 1024, the Court of Appeals held that the Voting Rights Act required preclearance. The court thereafter denied petitioners' application for a stay pending filing and consideration of a petition for writ of certiorari. On August 14, 1980, however, Justice POWELL, in his capacity as Circuit Justice, entered an order recalling the mandate and staying the judgment of the Court of Appeals pending disposition of the petition for certiorari. 448 U.S. 1318, 101 S.Ct. 7, 65 L.Ed.2d 1142. We granted that petition because the question presented is important and because the answer suggested by our prior opinions is not free of ambiguity. 449 U.S. 898, 101 S.Ct. 265, 66 L.Ed.2d 127.11

In this Court, the county officials contend that the Voting Rights Act does not apply to a plan that "(a) was prepared and presented in response to an order by the district court, (b) was not prepared by county officials but by a third party expert, (c) was not adopted by the county before submission to the court, (d) was considered by the trial court to be court-ordered, and (e) was put into effect only after county officials were ordered to do so by the trial court." 12

We first consider the significance of the distinction between legislative and court-ordered plans as identified in our prior cases. We then review our decisions in East Carroll and Wise v. Lipscomb, on which the District Court and the Court of Appeals respectively placed primary reliance. Finally, we examine the statute and its legislative history.

I

Texas and its political subdivisions are covered by the Voting Rights Act. Briscoe v. Bell, 432 U.S. 404, 97 S.Ct. 2428, 53 L.Ed.2d 439.13 Section 5 of the Act is applicable whenever a covered jurisdiction "shall enact or seek 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, 1972. . . ." 42 U.S.C. § 1973c. A reapportionment plan is a "standard, practice, or procedure with respect to voting" within the meaning of § 5, Georgia v. United States, 411 U.S. 526, 531-535, 93 S.Ct. 1702, 1708, 36 L.Ed.2d 472, and it is undisputed that Kleberg County is a covered jurisdiction. What is in dispute is whether that jurisdiction did "enact or seek to administer" a proposed reapportionment plan when it presented that plan to a Federal District Court as a proposed remedy for a constitutional violation. If the statute does apply, then the plan must be precleared either by the Attorney General of the United States or the United States District Court for the District of Columbia before it may become effective.14 In such a preclearance proceeding, it is not sufficient to demonstrate that the new plan is constitutional; the covered...

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