Texas v. U.S.

Decision Date31 March 1998
Docket Number9729
Citation523 U.S. 296,140 L.Ed.2d 406,118 S.Ct. 1257
PartiesTEXAS, Appellant, v. UNITED STATES et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus*

In 1995, the Texas Legislature enacted a comprehensive scheme (Chapter 39) that holds local school boards accountable to the State for student achievement in the public schools. When a school district falls short of Chapter 39's accreditation criteria, the State Commissioner of Education may select from 10 possible sanctions, including appointment of a master to oversee the district's operations, Tex. Educ.Code Ann. §39.131(a)(7), or appointment of a management team to direct operations in areas of unacceptable performance or to require contracting out of services, §39.131(a)(8). Texas, a covered jurisdiction under §5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, submitted Chapter 39 to the United States Attorney General for a determination whether any of the sanctions affected voting and thus required preclearance. While the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights did not object to §§39.131(a)(7) and (8), he cautioned that under certain circumstances their implementation might result in a §5 violation. Texas subsequently filed a complaint in the District Court, seeking a declaration that §5 does not apply to the §§39.131(a)(7) and (8) sanctions. The court did not reach the merits of the case because it concluded that Texas's claim was not ripe.

Held: Texas's claim is not ripe for adjudication. A claim resting upon ""contingent future events that may not occur as anticipated, or indeed may not occur at all,''' is not fit for adjudication. Thomas v. Union Carbide Agricultural Products Co., 473 U.S. 568, 581, 105 S.Ct. 3325, 3333, 87 L.Ed.2d 409. Whether the problem Texas presents will ever need solving is too speculative. Texas will appoint a master or management team only after a school district falls below state standards and the Commissioner has tried other, less intrusive sanctions. Texas has not pointed to any school district in which the application of §39.131(a)(7) or (8) is currently foreseen or even likely. Even if there were greater certainty regarding implementation, the claim would not be ripe because the legal issues Texas raises are not yet fit for judicial decision and because the hardship to Texas of withholding court consideration until the State chooses to implement one of the sanctions is insubstantial. See Abbott Laboratories v. Gardner, 387 U.S. 136, 149, 87 S.Ct. 1507, 1515-1516, 18 L.Ed.2d 681. Pp. ____-____.

Affirmed.

SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Javier Aguilar, Austin, TX, for appellant.

Paul R.Q. Wolfson, Washington, DC, for appellees.

Justice SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court.

Appellant, the State of Texas, appeals from the judgment of a three-judge district court for the District of Columbia. The State had sought a declaratory judgment that the preclearance provisions of §5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 79 Stat. 439, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §1973c, do not apply to implementation of certain sections of the Texas Education Code that permit the State to sanction local school districts for failure to meet state-mandated educational achievement levels. This appeal presents the question whether the controversy is ripe.

I

In Texas, both the state government and local school districts are responsible for the public schools. There are more than 1,000 school districts, each run by an elected school board. In 1995, the Texas Legislature enacted a comprehensive scheme (Chapter 39) that holds local school boards accountable to the State for student achievement. Tex. Educ.Code Ann. §§39.021-39.131 (1996). Chapter 39 contains detailed prescriptions for assessment of student academic skills, development of academic performance indicators, determination of accreditation status for school districts, and imposition of accreditation sanctions. It seeks to measure the academic performance of Texas schoolchildren, to reward the schools and school districts that achieve the legislative goals, and to sanction those that fall short.

When a district fails to satisfy the State's accreditation criteria, the State Commissioner of Education may select from 10 possible sanctions that are listed in ascending order of severity. §§39.131(a)(1)-(10). Those include, "to the extent the [C]ommissioner determines necessary,'' §39.131(a), appointing a master to oversee the district's operations, §39.131(a)(7), or appointing a management team to direct the district's operations in areas of unacceptable performance or to require the district to contract for services from another person, §39.131(a)(8). When the Commissioner appoints masters or management teams, he "shall clearly define the[ir] powers and duties'' and shall review the need for them every 90 days. §39.131(e). A master or management team may approve or disapprove any action taken by a school principal, the district superintendent, or the district's board of trustees, and may also direct them to act. §§39.131(e)(1), (2). State law prohibits masters or management teams from taking any action concerning a district election, changing the number of members on or the method of selecting the board of trustees, setting a tax rate for the district, or adopting a budget which establishes a different level of spending for the district from that set by the board. §§39.131(e)(3)-(6).

Texas is a covered jurisdiction under §5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, see 28 CFR pt. 51, App. (1997), and consequently, before it can implement changes affecting voting it must obtain preclearance from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia or from the Attorney General of the United States. 42 U.S.C. §1973c. Texas submitted Chapter 39 to the Attorney General for administrative preclearance. The Assistant Attorney General * requested further information, including the criteria used to select special masters and management teams, a detailed description of their powers and duties, and the difference between their duties and those of the elected boards. The State responded by pointing out the limits placed on masters and management teams in §39.131(e), and by noting that the actual authority granted "is set by the Commissioner at the time of appointment depending on the needs of the district.'' App. to Juris. Statement 99a. After receiving this information, the Assistant Attorney General concluded that the first six sanctions do not affect voting and therefore do not require preclearance. He did not object to §§39.131(a)(7) and (8), insofar as the provisions are "enabling in nature,'' but he cautioned that "under certain foreseeable circumstances their implementation may result in a violation of Section 5'' which would require preclearance. Id., at 36a.

On June 7, 1996, Texas filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, seeking a declaration that §5 does not apply to the sanctions authorized by §§39.131(a)(7) and (8), because (1) they are not changes with respect to voting, and (2) they are consistent with conditions attached to grants of federal financial assistance that authorize and require the imposition of sanctions to insure accountability of local education authorities. The District Court did not reach the merits of these arguments because it concluded that Texas's claim was not ripe. We noted probable jurisdiction. 521 U.S. ----, 118 S.Ct. 29, 138 L.Ed.2d 1059 (1997).

II

A claim is not ripe for adjudication if it rests upon ""contingent future events that may not occur as anticipated, or indeed may not occur at all.''' Thomas v. Union Carbide Agricultural Products Co., 473 U.S. 568, 581, 105 S.Ct. 3325, 3333, 87 L.Ed.2d 409 (1985) (quoting 13A Charles A. Wright, Arthur R. Miller, & Edward H. Cooper, Federal Practice and Procedure §3532, p. 112 (1984)). Whether Texas will appoint a master or management team under §§39.131(a)(7) and (8) is contingent on a number of factors. First, a school district must fall below the state standards. Then, pursuant to state policy, the Commissioner must try first "the imposition of sanctions which do not include the appointment of a master or management team,'' App. 10 (Original Complaint ¶12). He may, for example, "order the preparation of a student achievement improvement plan . . . , submission of the plan to the [C]ommissioner for approval, and implementation of the plan,'' §39.131(a)(3), or "appoint an agency monitor to participate in and report to the agency on the activities of the board of trustees or the superintendent,'' §39.131(a)(6). It is only if these less intrusive options fail that a Commissioner may appoint a master or management team, Tr. of Oral Arg. 16, and even then, only "to the extent the [C]ommissioner determines necessary,'' §39.131(a). Texas has not pointed to any particular school district in which the application of §§39.131(a)(7) or (8) is currently foreseen or...

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