Young et al. v. Fordice et al.
Decided on Mar. 31, 1997, 520 U.S. 273


A. Issues Discussed: Voting Rights Act of 1965

 B. Legal Question Presented:

Does Section (§) 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965..., require preclearance of certain changes that Mississippi made in its voter registration procedures in order to comply with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993?

A. Background:

"The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) requires States to provide simplified systems for registering to vote in federal elections, including a system for voter registration on a driver's license application. Beginning on January 1, 1995, Mississippi attempted to comply with the NVRA, attempting to replace its 'Old System' of registration with a 'Provisional Plan' that simplified registration procedures for both federal and state elections. The United States Attorney General precleared the Provisional Plan under §5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), which forbids States with a specified history of voting discrimination from making changes in voting 'practices or procedures' that have the purpose or effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color. However, a week before the Plan was precleared, the state legislature tabled legislation needed to make the changes effective for state elections. On February 10, 1995, the State abandoned the Provisional Plan in favor of a 'New System,' which uses the Provisional Plan for federal election registration only and the Old System for both state and federal election registration. The State made no further preclearance submissions. In this suit, appellants claim that the State and its officials violated §5 by implementing changes in its registration system without preclearance. A three judge District Court granted the State summary judgment, holding that the differences in the New System and Provisional Plan were attributable to the State's attempt to correct a misapplication of state law, and, thus, were not changes subject to preclearance; and that the State had precleared all the changes that the New System made in the Old when the Attorney General precleared the changes needed to implement the NVRA."  

On appeal the U.S. Supreme Court vacated and remanded the judgment of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.

B. Counsel of Record:
Opposing Side
The ACLU argued the cause  Unavailable

C. The Arguments:

Opposing Side
Unavailable Unavailable
Opposing Side
Brenda Wright argued the cause for appellants. With her on the briefs were Barbara R. Arnwine, Thomas J. Henderson, Samuel L. Walters, A. Spencer Gilbert III, and Laughlin McDonald and Neil Bradley of the ACLU.

Malcolm L. Stewart argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging reversal. With him on the brief were Acting Solicitor General Dellinger, Assistant Attorney General Patrick, Deputy Solicitor General Waxman, and Steven H. Rosenbaum.

Juan Cartagena filed a brief for the Community Service Society of New York et al. as amici curiae urging reversal.
Robert E. Sanders, Assistant Attorney General of Mississippi, argued the cause for appellees. With him on the brief was Mike Moore, Attorney General.


"Mississippi has not precleared, and must preclear, the 'practices and procedures' that it sought to administer on and after February 10, 1995...

[T]he New System included changes that must be precleared because it contains 'practices and procedures' that are significantly different from the Old System. Minor changes, as well as major, require preclearance. This is true even where, as here, the changes are made in an effort to comply with federal law, so long as those changes reflect policy choices made by state or local officials. The NVRA [National Voter Registration Act of 1993] does not preclude application of the VRA's requirements. Change invokes the preclearance process whether that change works in favor of, works against, or is neutral in its impact on minorities because the preclearance process is aimed at preserving the status quo until the Attorney General or the courts have an opportunity to evaluate a proposed change. Although the NVRA imposed mandates on the States, Mississippi's changes to the New System are discretionary and nonministerial, reflecting the exercise of policy choice and discretion by state officials. Thus, they are appropriate matters for § 5 preclearance review...

[P]reclearance requires examination of the federal system's discretionary elements in a context that includes history, purpose, and practical effect. The argument on the merits is whether these changes could have the purpose and effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color. Preclearance is necessary to evaluate this argument."

The U.S Supreme Court vacated and remanded the judgment of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.

Justice Vote: 9 Pro vs. 0 Con
  • Breyer, S. Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Thomas, C. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • O'Connor, S. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Rehnquist, W. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Ginsburg, R. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Souter, D. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Kennedy, A. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Stevens, J. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Scalia, A. Pro (Joined majority opinion)

The ACLU, as counsel of record, urged reversal of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi's judgment; the Supreme Court vacated and remanded in a 9-0 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.