Clark v. Roemer
Decided on June 3, 1991; 500 US 646


I. ISSUES II. CASE SUMMARY III. AMICI CURIAE IV. DECISION V. WIN OR LOSS?
I. ISSUES:

A. Issues Discussed:  Civil Rights (voting rights), Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, election discrimination

B. Legal Question Presented: 

Should the District Court have enjoined certain state elections for judgeships under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act; and was Louisiana’s failure to preclear certain voting changes under Section 5 cured by the Attorney General’s preclearance of later, or related, voting changes?
II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 requires that, before any new voting practices are enacted, it must be determined that those new practices are not discriminatory.  Under Section 5, certain jurisdictions (such as states) are required to get "preclearance" of any such voting changes either from the Attorney General of the United States (administrative) or from the US District Court of the District of Columbia (judicial).

A group of African American registered voters in Louisiana (Petitioners), sued the state of Louisiana challenging its electoral scheme for certain judgeships under Section 5.  In response, Louisiana then submitted all of the voting changes which had not been precleared to the US Attorney General; the Attorney General objected to some changes and precleared others.  Louisiana asked him to reconsider the objections, but went ahead with plans to hold elections without waiting for a ruling.  Petitioners then sued to stop (enjoin) the elections – both those that the Attorney General had belatedly "precleared" and those to which the Attorney General objected.

The District Court did not enjoin the elections to which the Attorney General had objected; it also decided that, because the Attorney General had precleared some of Louisiana’s submitted voting changes, that preclearance applied to earlier, similar judgeship elections (which had not been precleared), making them valid also.

The Petitioners appealed the case to the Supreme Court.
B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Robert B. McDuff argued the cause for appellants.  With him on the briefs were Frank R. Parker, Brenda Wright, Ernest L. Johnson, and Ulysses Gene Thibodeaux. Robert G. Pugh, Jr., argued the cause for appellees.  With him on the brief were Robert G. Pugh, John N. Kennedy, Thomas A. Casey, Michael H. Rubin, Christina B. Peck, and Cynthia Young Rougeou. 
C. The Arguments:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Kathleen L. Wilde, Laughlin McDonald, and Neil Bradley filed a brief for the American Civil Liberties Union, et al., as amicus curiae urging reversal.

James A. Feldman argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging reversal.  With him on the brief were Solicitor General Starr, Assistant Attorney General Dunne, Deputy Solicitor General Roberts, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Clegg, and Jessica Dunsay Silver.

No amici curiae briefs were filed on behalf of Appellee.
IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"Section 5 requires States to obtain either judicial or administrative preclearance before implementing a voting change... Failure to obtain either judicial or administrative preclearance 'renders the change unenforceable…'

The District Court ignored these principles altogether.  It presented a number of reasons for not enjoining the elections, none of which we find persuasive… Appellants displayed no lack of diligence in challenging elections for the unprecleared seats, and every participant in the process knew for over three years that the challenged seats were unprecleared, in violation of [Section] 5… Nor did the District Court’s vague concerns about voter confusion and low voter turnout in a special election… justify its refusal to enjoin the illegal elections.  Voters may be more confused and inclined to avoid the polls when an election is held in conceded violation of federal law… Louisiana had with consistency ignored the mandate of [Section] 5.  The District Court should have enjoined the elections.

[T]he submission of legislation for administrative preclearance under [Section] 5 defines the scope of the preclearance request…  [S]ubmission of a particular change does not encompass all prior changes - precleared or not - that have been made since the Act’s effective date... A request for preclearance of certain identified changes in election practices which fails to identify other practices as new ones thus cannot be considered an adequate submission of the latter practices... In light of its legal errors, the District Court’s finding that the Attorney General 'expressly approved' the prior uncleared changes cannot stand.

The judgment is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion."
Justice Vote: 9 Pro vs. 0 Con

  • Kennedy, A. Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • O'Connor, S. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Scalia, A. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Souter, D. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Stevens, J. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Blackmun, H. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Marshall, T. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Rehnquist, W. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • White, B. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

The ACLU filed as amicus urging reversal; the Supreme Court reversed and remanded the ruling of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana in a 9-0 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.