Holder, etc., et al. v. Hall, et al., 912012

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtKENNEDY
Citation129 L.Ed.2d 687,512 U.S. 874,114 S.Ct. 2581
Decision Date30 June 1994
Docket Number912012
PartiesJackie HOLDER, etc., et al., Petitioners, v. E.K. HALL, Sr., et al

512 U.S. 874
114 S.Ct. 2581
129 L.Ed.2d 687
Jackie HOLDER, etc., et al., Petitioners,

v.

E.K. HALL, Sr., et al.

No. 91-2012.
Supreme Court of the United States
Argued Oct. 4, 1993.
Decided June 30, 1994.
Syllabus*

Bleckley County, Georgia, has always had a form of government whereby a single commissioner holds all legislative and executive authority. In 1985, the State Legislature authorized the county to adopt by referendum a multimember commission consisting of five members elected from single-member districts and a chair elected at large, but voters defeated the proposal, although they had previously approved a five-member district plan for the county school board. Respondents, black voters and the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, filed this action. The District Court rejected their constitutional claim that the single-member commission was enacted or maintained with an intent to exclude or limit the political influence of the county's black community in violation of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. The court also ruled against their claim that the commission's size violated § 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, finding that respondents satisfied only one of the three preconditions established in Thornburg v. Gingles, 478 U.S. 30, 106 S.Ct. 2752, 92 L.Ed.2d 25. The Court of Appeals reversed on the statutory claim, holding that the totality of the circumstances supported § 2 liability and remanding for a formulation of a remedy, which it suggested could be modeled after the county's school board election system.

Held: The judgment is reversed, and the case is remanded.

955 F.2d 1563, reversed and remanded.

Justice KENNEDY, joined by THE CHIEF JUSTICE and Justice O'CONNOR, concluded in Parts I, II-A, and III:

1. The size of a governing authority is not subject to a vote dilution challenge under § 2. Along with determining whether the Gingles preconditions are met and whether the totality of the circumstances support a liability finding, a court in a § 2 suit must find a reasonable alternative practice as a benchmark against which to measure the existing voting practice. However, there is no objective and workable standard for choosing a reasonable benchmark where, as here, the challenge is brought to the government body's size. There is no reason why one size should be picked over another. Respondents have offered no convincing reasons why the benchmark should be a hypothetical five-member commission. That such a commission is the most common form of governing authority in the State does not bear on dilution, since a sole commissioner system has the same impact on voting strength whether it is shared by none, or by all, of Georgia's counties. That the county was authorized to expand its commission, and that it adopted a five-member school board, are likewise irrelevant considerations. At most, they indicate that the county could change the size of its governing body with minimal disruption, but the failure to do so says nothing about the effects the current system has on the county citizens' voting power. Pp. ____.

2. The case is remanded for consideration of respondents' constitutional claim. P. ____.

Justice KENNEDY, joined by THE CHIEF JUSTICE, concluded in Part II-B that a voting practice subject to the preclearance requirement of § 5 of the Act is not necessarily subject to a dilution challenge under § 2. The sections differ in structure, purpose, and application; and in contrast to § 2 cases, a baseline for comparison under § 5 exists by definition: A proposed voting practice is measured against the existing practice to determine whether retrogression would result from the proposed change. Pp. ____.

Justice O'CONNOR concluded that precedent compels the conclusion that the size of a governing authority is both a "standard, practice, or procedure" under § 2 and a "standard, practice, or procedure with respect to voting" under § 5, but agreed that a § 2 dilution challenge to a governing authority's size cannot be maintained because there can never be an objective alternative benchmark for comparison. Pp. ____.

Justice THOMAS, joined by Justice SCALIA, concluded that the size of a governing body cannot be attacked under § 2 because it is not a "standard, practice, or procedure" within the terms of § 2. An examination of § 2's text makes it clear that those terms refer only to practices that affect minority citizens' access to the ballot. Districting systems and electoral mechanisms that may affect the "weight" given to a ballot duly cast and counted are simply beyond the purview of the Act. The decision in Thornburg v. Gingles, 478 U.S. 30, 106 S.Ct. 2752, 92 L.Ed.2d 25 which interprets § 2 to reach claims of vote "dilution," should be overruled. Gingles was based upon a flawed method of statutory construction and has produced an interpretation of § 2 that is at odds with the text of the Act and that has proved unworkable in practice. Pp. ____.

KENNEDY, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., joined, and in all but Part II-B of which O'CONNOR, J., joined. O'CONNOR, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment. THOMAS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which SCALIA, J., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which STEVENS, SOUTER, and GINSBURG, JJ., joined. GINSBURG, J., filed a dissenting opinion. STEVENS, J., filed a separate opinion, in which BLACKMUN, SOUTER, and GINSBURG, JJ., joined.

R. Napier Murphy, Macon, GA, for petitioners.

Christopher Coates, Milledgeville, GA, for respondents.

Justice KENNEDY announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which THE CHIEF JUSTICE joined, and in all but Part II-B of which Justice O'CONNOR joined.

This case presents the question whether the size of a governing authority is subject to a vote dilution challenge under § 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 42 U.S.C. § 1973.

I

The State of Georgia has 159 counties, one of which is Bleckley County, a rural county in central Georgia. Black persons make up nearly 20% of the eligible voting population in Bleckley County. Since its creation in 1912, the county has had a single-commissioner form of government for the exercise of "county governing authority." See Ga.Code Ann. § 1-3-3(7) (Supp.1993). Under this system, the Bleckley County Commissioner performs all of the executive and legislative functions of the county government, including the levying of general and special taxes, the directing and controlling of all county property, and the settling of all claims. Ga.Code Ann. § 36-5-22.1 (1993). In addition to Bleckley County, about 10 other Georgia counties use the single-commissioner system; the rest have multimember commissions.

In 1985, the Georgia Legislature authorized Bleckley County to adopt a multimember commission consisting of five commissioners elected from single-member districts and a single chairman elected at large. 1985 Ga.Laws, p. 4406. In a referendum held in 1986, however, the electorate did not adopt the change to a multimember commission. (In a similar referendum four years earlier, county voters had approved a five-member district plan for the election of the county school board.)

In 1985, respondents (six black registered voters from Bleckley County and the Cochran/Bleckley County Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) challenged the single-commissioner system in a suit filed against petitioners (Jackie Holder, the incumbent county commissioner, and Probate Judge Robert Johnson, the superintendent of elections). The complaint raised both a constitutional and a statutory claim.

In their constitutional claim, respondents alleged that the county's single-member commission was enacted or maintained with an intent to exclude or to limit the political influence of the county's black community in violation of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. At the outset, the District Court made extensive findings of fact about the political history and dynamics of Bleckley County. The court found, for example, that when the county was formed in 1912, few if any black citizens could vote. Indeed, until passage of federal civil rights laws, Bleckley County "enforced racial segregation in all aspects of local government—courthouse, jails, public housing, governmental services—and deprived its black citizens of the opportunity to participate in local government." 757 F.Supp. 1560, 1562 (MD Ga.1991). And even today, though legal segregation no longer exists, "more black than white residents of Bleckley County continue to endure a depressed socio-economic status." Ibid. No black person has run for or been elected to the office of Bleckley County Commissioner, and the District Judge stated that, having run for public office himself, he "wouldn't run if [he] were black in Bleckley County." See 955 F.2d 1563, 1571 (CA11 1992).

The court rejected respondents' constitutional contention, however, concluding that respondents "ha[d] failed to provide any evidence that Bleckley County's single member county commission [wa]s the product of original or continued racial animus or discriminatory intent." 757 F.Supp., at 1571. Nor was there evidence that the system was maintained "for tenuous reasons" or that the commissioner himself was unresponsive to the "particularized needs" of the black community. Id., at 1564. There was no "slating process" to stand as a barrier to black candidates, and there was testimony from respondents that they were unaware of any racial appeals in recent elections. Id., at 1562, n. 2, 1583.

In their statutory claim, respondents asserted that the county's single-member commission violated § 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 79 Stat. 437, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 1973. Under the statute, the suit contended, Bleckley County must...

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231 practice notes
  • Gamble v. United States, No. 17-646
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 17, 2019
    ...subjective factors, provides a ready means of justifying whatever result five Members of the Court seek to achieve. See Holder v. Hall , 512 U.S. 874, 943–944, 114 S.Ct. 2581, 129 L.Ed.2d 687 (1994) (THOMAS, J., concurring in judgment) (describing a " ‘totality of circumstances’ " test as "......
  • Muntaqim v. Coombe, Docket No. 01-7260.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit
    • April 23, 2004
    ...vote dilution occurs when a voting practice diminishes "the force of minority votes that were duly cast and counted." Holder v. Hall, 512 U.S. 874, 896, 114 S.Ct. 2581, 129 L.Ed.2d 687 (1994) (Scalia and Thomas, JJ., concurring in judgment). Muntaqim's vote denial claim is based on the fact......
  • Rodriguez v. Harris Cnty., Civil Action No. 4:11–2907.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Texas
    • August 1, 2013
    ...undiluted practice. Reno v. Bossier Parish Sch. Bd., 520 U.S. 471, 480, 117 S.Ct. 1491, 137 L.Ed.2d 730 (1997) (quoting Holder v. Hall, 512 U.S. 874, 881, 114 S.Ct. 2581, 129 L.Ed.2d 687 (1994)); Gingles, 478 U.S. at 88, 106 S.Ct. 2752 (O'Connor, J., concurring) (“The phrase vote dilution i......
  • Evenwel v. Abbott, No. 14–940.
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • April 4, 2016
    ...theories of democratic representation, [or] the ‘best’ electoral systems for securing truly ‘representative’ government." Holder v. Hall, 512 U.S. 874, 913, 114 S.Ct. 2581, 129 L.Ed.2d 687 (1994) (THOMAS, J., concurring in judgment). Because the majority continues that misguided search, I c......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
229 cases
  • Gamble v. United States, No. 17-646
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 17, 2019
    ...subjective factors, provides a ready means of justifying whatever result five Members of the Court seek to achieve. See Holder v. Hall , 512 U.S. 874, 943–944, 114 S.Ct. 2581, 129 L.Ed.2d 687 (1994) (THOMAS, J., concurring in judgment) (describing a " ‘totality of circumstances’ " test as "......
  • Muntaqim v. Coombe, Docket No. 01-7260.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit
    • April 23, 2004
    ...vote dilution occurs when a voting practice diminishes "the force of minority votes that were duly cast and counted." Holder v. Hall, 512 U.S. 874, 896, 114 S.Ct. 2581, 129 L.Ed.2d 687 (1994) (Scalia and Thomas, JJ., concurring in judgment). Muntaqim's vote denial claim is based on the fact......
  • Rodriguez v. Harris Cnty., Civil Action No. 4:11–2907.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Texas
    • August 1, 2013
    ...undiluted practice. Reno v. Bossier Parish Sch. Bd., 520 U.S. 471, 480, 117 S.Ct. 1491, 137 L.Ed.2d 730 (1997) (quoting Holder v. Hall, 512 U.S. 874, 881, 114 S.Ct. 2581, 129 L.Ed.2d 687 (1994)); Gingles, 478 U.S. at 88, 106 S.Ct. 2752 (O'Connor, J., concurring) (“The phrase vote dilution i......
  • Evenwel v. Abbott, No. 14–940.
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • April 4, 2016
    ...theories of democratic representation, [or] the ‘best’ electoral systems for securing truly ‘representative’ government." Holder v. Hall, 512 U.S. 874, 913, 114 S.Ct. 2581, 129 L.Ed.2d 687 (1994) (THOMAS, J., concurring in judgment). Because the majority continues that misguided search, I c......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2 books & journal articles
  • The Supreme Court and Opinion Content: The Use of the Federalist Papers
    • United States
    • Political Research Quarterly Nbr. 58-2, June 2005
    • June 1, 2005
    ...no Protective Association, 485 U.S. 439 (1988); Bowsher v. Synar, 478 U.S. such distinction in our data. 714 (1986); Holder v. E.K. Hall, 512 U.S. 874 (1994); United States 2 We listed a citation as occurring only once even if the opinion cited the Lopez, 514 U.S. 549 (1995). Federalist Pap......
  • Can Gerrymanders Be Detected? An Examination of Wisconsin’s State Assembly
    • United States
    • American Politics Research Nbr. 47-5, September 2019
    • September 1, 2019
    ...14581 (M.D.N.C. Feb. 5, 2016), probable jurisdiction noted, 136 S. Ct. 2512 (2016). 1200 American Politics Research 47(5) Holder v. Hall, 512 U.S. 874 (1994).Jackman, S. (2016, July 7). Assessing the current Wisconsin state legislative district-ing plan (Submitted by Plaintiff’s in Gill v. ......

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