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,
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.
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.
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."
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.
Without expressing any opinion with respect to the constitutionality of the new plan, the Court of Appeals vacated
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."
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
Texas and its political subdivisions are covered by the Voting Rights Act. Briscoe v. Bell, 432 U.S. 404.
In prior reapportionment cases not arising under the Voting Rights Act, we have recognized important differences between legislative plans and court-ordered plans. Because "reapportionment is primarily the duty and responsibility of the State through its legislature or other body, rather than of a federal court," Chapman v. Meier, 420 U.S. 1, 27, the Court has tolerated somewhat greater flexibility in the fashioning of legislative remedies for violation of the one-person, one-vote rule than when a federal court prepares its own
In this case, we are concerned only with the question whether the reapportionment plan submitted to the District Court should be considered a legislative plan for purposes of preclearance under § 5. We are not presented with any question concerning the substantive acceptability of that plan. Nonetheless, we draw significant guidance from prior cases in which the substantive acceptability of a reapportionment plan, rather than the applicability of § 5, was at issue.
In neither of the cases on which the respective parties now place their primary reliance did the Court predicate its decision on the Voting Rights Act. In both of those cases, the question before the Court was whether it was error for the District Court to approve the inclusion of a multimember district in the reapportionment plan under review.
In East Carroll Parish School Board v. Marshall, 424 U.S. 636 (per curiam), the plaintiff contended that population disparities among the parish's wards had unconstitutionally denied him the right to cast an effective vote for representatives to the school board and the police jury, the governing body of the parish. The District Court found that the
When we reviewed the case, we concluded that it was improper for the Court of Appeals to base its decision on a constitutional ground in view of the fact that the District Court had violated the frequently reaffirmed "rule that when United States district courts are put to the task of fashioning reapportionment plans to supplant concededly invalid state legislation, single-member districts are to be preferred absent unusual circumstances." Id., at 639. Thus, we held in East Carroll that the plan approved by the District Court was a judicial plan for purposes of substantive review.
Although the issue was not raised by the parties, we also stated in East Carroll that the plan was a judicial plan for purposes of § 5 preclearance. Neither of the parties had argued that § 5's preclearance requirement was applicable in that case. However, the United States, as amicus curiae, had contended that, because the plan had been submitted by the
Petitioners rely heavily upon this footnote. While their reliance is understandable, the footnote is not dispositive in this case. The discussion of § 5 in East Carroll was dictum unnecessary to the decision in that case. It is, therefore, not controlling in this case, in which the impact of § 5 is directly placed in issue.
In Wise v. Lipscomb, the District Court held that the system of at-large election to the Dallas City Council unconstitutionally diluted the voting strength of black citizens. The court thereafter gave the City Council an opportunity to prepare and submit a new apportionment plan. In response, the City Council passed a resolution stating the Council's intention to pass an ordinance providing for the election of eight council members from single-member districts, and for the election of the three remaining members from the city at large. The District Court conducted a hearing "`to determine the constitutionality of the new proposed plan'" and held that it was "a valid legislative Act." See 437 U. S., at 538-539. The Court of Appeals reversed, relying on East Carroll to hold that it was error for the District Court merely to evaluate the new plan under constitutional standards without also deciding whether exceptional circumstances justified the inclusion of a multimember district in that judicially imposed reapportionment plan. See 551 F.2d 1043 (CA5 1977).
The question this Court addressed was whether the District Court had committed error by failing to apply the usual presumption against multimember districts in judicial reapportionment plans. In his opinion announcing the judgment of the Court, JUSTICE WHITE, joined by JUSTICE STEWART, answered that question by holding that the presumption did not apply because it is "appropriate, whenever practicable, to afford a reasonable opportunity for the legislature to meet constitutional requirements by adopting a substitute measure rather than for the federal court to devise and order into effect its own plan." 437 U. S., at 540. JUSTICE WHITE distinguished East Carroll on the ground that the legislative bodies in that case had not purported to reapportion themselves and, indeed, had been without power to reapportion
JUSTICE POWELL's separate opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, was joined by the THE CHIEF JUSTICE, JUSTICE BLACKMUN, and JUSTICE REHNQUIST. JUSTICE POWELL agreed with JUSTICE WHITE's conclusion that the Dallas reapportionment plan was a legislative plan for purposes of the application of the presumption against multimember districts. However, relying upon Burns v. Richardson, 384 U.S. 73, JUSTICE POWELL disagreed with JUSTICE WHITE's suggestion that East Carroll had held that a proposed reapportionment plan may be considered legislative only if the legislative body that suggested the plan had authority to enact it under state law. 437 U. S., at 548.
In dissent, JUSTICE MARSHALL, joined by JUSTICE BRENNAN and JUSTICE STEVENS, expressed the opinion that Wise was indistinguishable from East Carroll and that the Court of Appeals therefore had correctly applied the presumption
While it is clear that Wise, like East Carroll, did not require the Court to decide any statutory issue, the references to § 5 of the Voting Rights Act in JUSTICE WHITE's opinion announcing the judgment of the Court are nevertheless instructive. After pointing out that "the distinctive impact" of § 5 upon the power of the States to reapportion themselves must be observed in the normal case, 437 U. S., at 541-542, JUSTICE WHITE stated:
Neither East Carroll nor Wise decided the precise question that is now presented. Nonetheless, both JUSTICE WHITE's opinion and JUSTICE POWELL's opinion surely foreshadowed the holding we announce today. For both opinions indicate that the fact that the reapportionment plan before us was devised in response to an order of a federal court does not change its character as a legislative plan. In addition, JUSTICE POWELL's opinion indicates that the Commissioners Court's power under Texas law to adopt this plan should be irrelevant to the decision in this case.
This is not a case in which the language of the controlling statute unambiguously answers the question presented. The Solicitor General, on behalf of the United States as amicus curiae, contends that a covered jurisdiction "seek[s] to administer" a new voting practice when it submits a redistricting plan to a district court as a proposed remedy for a constitutional violation. This is a plausible but not an obviously correct reading of the statutory language. For there is force to the contrary argument that Kleberg County had no intention
In 1975, when Congress adopted the amendments that ultimately brought Texas and Kleberg County within the coverage of the Act, it directed special attention to § 5 and to the redistricting that would be required after the 1980 census.
The Committee unambiguously stated that the statutory protections are to be available even when the redistricting is ordered by a federal court to remedy a constitutional violation that has been established in pending federal litigation. The Committee Report is crystal clear on this point:
The view expressed by the Committee is consistent with the basic purposes of the statute and with the well-settled rule that § 5 is to be given a broad construction. See, e. g., Dougherty County Board of Education v. White, 439 U.S. 32, 38; United States v. Sheffield Board of Commissioners, 435 U.S. 110, 122-123; Perkins v. Matthews, 400 U.S. 379, 387. The preclearance procedure is designed to forestall the danger that local decisions to modify voting practices will impair minority access to the electoral process.
It is true, of course, that the federal interest may be protected by the federal district court presiding over voting rights litigation, but sound reasons support the Committee's view that the normal § 5 preclearance procedures should nevertheless be followed in cases such as this.
The application of the statute is not dependent on a showing that the county's proposed plan is defective in any way. Cf. United States v. Board of Supervisors of Warren County, 429 U.S. 642 (per curiam); Morris v. Gressette, 432 U.S. 491. The prophylactic purposes of the § 5 remedy are achieved by automatically requiring "review of all voting changes prior to implementation by the covered jurisdictions." Senate Report, at 15 (emphasis supplied).
The application of the statute also is not dependent upon any showing that the Commissioners Court had authority under state law to enact the apportionment plan at issue in this case.
As we construe the congressional mandate, it requires that 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 Voting Rights Act is applicable.
The judgment of the Court of Appeals is therefore affirmed.
It is so ordered.
JUSTICE POWELL, concurring.
The decision today is foreshadowed by Wise v. Lipscomb, 437 U.S. 535 (1978), and I join the Court's opinion. The constitutionality of § 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has been sustained by prior cases. If the question were presented for reconsideration, I would adhere to the contrary view as previously expressed. City of Rome v. United States, 446 U.S. 156, 193 (1980) (POWELL, J., dissenting); Dougherty County Bd. of Ed. v. White, 439 U.S. 32, 48 (1978) (POWELL, J., dissenting); Georgia v. United States, 411 U.S. 526, 545 (1973) (POWELL, J., dissenting). See also United States v. Sheffield Board of Commissioners, 435 U.S. 110, 141 (1978) (STEVENS, J., dissenting); Allen v. State Board of Elections, 393 U.S. 544, 586, and n. 4 (1969) (Harlan, J., concurring
JUSTICE STEWART, with whom JUSTICE REHNQUIST joins, dissenting.
In East Carroll Parish School Bd. v. Marshall, 424 U.S. 636, 638-639, n. 6, the Court expressly stated that a reapportionment scheme which is submitted and adopted pursuant to a court order does not have to be approved through the preclearance procedures of § 5 of the Voting Rights Act. This statement represented the deliberate and considered view of the Court, as demonstrated by the presence of a separate opinion in the case questioning the Court's resolution of the issue. See id., at 640 (concurring opinion). Because I believe that what the Court said in the East Carroll case expressly controls the result in this case, I respectfully dissent.
"[W]henever a State or political subdivision with respect to which the prohibitions set forth in section 1973b (a) of this title based upon determinations made under the third sentence of section 1973b (b) of this title are in effect 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, such State or subdivision may institute an action in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia for a declaratory judgment that such qualification, prerequisite, standard, practice, or procedure does not have the purpose and will not have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color, or in contravention of the guarantees set forth in section 1973b (f) (2) of this title, and unless and until the court enters such judgment no person shall be denied the right to vote for failure to comply with such qualification, prerequisite, standard, practice, or procedure: Provided, That such qualification, prerequisite, standard, practice, or procedure may be enforced without such proceeding if the qualification, prerequisite, standard, practice, or procedure has been submitted by the chief legal officer or other appropriate official of such State or subdivision to the Attorney General and the Attorney General has not interposed an objection within sixty days after such submission, or upon good cause shown, to facilitate an expedited approval within sixty days after such submission, the Attorney General has affirmatively indicated that such objection will not be made."
"In addition to the meaning given the term under subsection (c) of this section, the term `test or device' shall also mean any practice or requirement by which any State or political subdivision provided any registration or voting notices, forms, instructions, assistance, or other materials or information relating to the electoral process, including ballots, only in the English language, where the Director of the Census determines that more than five per centum of the citizens of voting age residing in such State or political subdivision are members of a single language minority." 89 Stat. 401-402, 42 U. S. C. § 1973b (f) (3).
As a result of this amendment, Texas and its political subdivisions became covered jurisdictions. See Briscoe v. Bell, 432 U.S. 404.
"Q. What instructions did you receive at the time of notification from Judge McDaniel in reference to drafting the new plan?
"A. They wanted it broken down on a one-person/one-vote basis and that was the extent of their input on how I would do it." App. 25.
The Commissioners Court did not ask Dr. Nash to take into consideration geographical boundaries, previous county maintenance districts, or the ethnic balance of individual precincts. Id., at 26. In drafting the plan, Dr. Nash was primarily influenced by population considerations; he also attempted to stay within the boundaries of existing voting precincts as much as possible. id., at 29-30.
"It is fair to say that the opinions in East Carroll and Wise v. Lipscomb fall considerably short of providing clear guidance to the courts that initially address this difficult issue. It would be helpful, therefore, for this Court to exercise its responsibility to provide such guidance." 448 U. S., at 1322.
"A decree of the United States District Court is not within reach of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act." 402 U. S., at 691.
In his dissenting opinion in Johnson, Justice Black added:
"Needless to say I completely agree with the holding of the majority that a reapportionment plan formulated and ordered by a federal district court need not be approved by the United States Attorney General or the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. Under our constitutional system it would be strange indeed to construe § 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 79 Stat. 439, 42 U. S. C. § 1973c (1964 ed., Supp. V), to require that actions of a federal court be stayed and reviewed by the Attorney General or the United States District Court for the District of Columbia." Id., at 695.
"I consider it unnecessary to reach the question discussed, ante, at 638-639, n. 6. It was, as the Court observes in n. 6, `not raised by the petitioners, nor did respondent file a cross-petition.' The scope of § 5 of the Voting Rights Act is an important matter, and I would not undertake to express any view on what the Court discusses by way of dicta in n. 6." 424 U. S., at 640.
To the extent that the dictum in the East Carroll footnote is inconsistent with our holding today, that dictum is disavowed.
"[W]e emphasized [in East Carroll] that the bodies which submitted the plans did not purport to reapportion themselves and, furthermore, could not even legally do so under federal law because state legislation providing them with such powers had been disapproved by the Attorney General of the United States under § 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. 424 U. S., at 638 n. 6, 637 n. 2. Under these circumstances, it was concluded that the mere act of submitting a plan was not the equivalent of a legislative Act of reapportionment performed in accordance with the political processes of the community in question." 437 U. S., at 545.
"The essential point is that the Dallas City Council exercised a legislative judgment, reflecting the policy choices of the elected representatives of the people, rather than the remedial directive of a federal court. . . . Th[e] rule of deference to local legislative judgments remains in force even if, as in Burns, our examination of state law suggests that the local body lacks authority to reapportion itself." 437 U. S., at 548.
"Because the brief per curiam in East Carroll did not even cite Burns, I would read it as turning on its peculiar facts. In response to the litigation in East Carroll, the legislature enacted a statute enabling police juries and school boards to reapportion themselves by employing at-large elections. That enabling legislation was disapproved by the Attorney General of the United States under § 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 . . . because of its impermissible impact on Negro voters. This determination meant that the specific plans proposed by the school board and police jury in that case would have had unlawful effects. Because their legislative judgment had been found tainted in that respect, it followed that the normal presumption of legitimacy afforded the balances reflected in legislative plans . . . could not be indulged. To the extent that East Carroll implies anything further about the principle established in Burns, the latter must be held to control." 437 U. S., at 549.
"I agree with the majority's decision not to reach the Voting Rights Act question, since it was not presented to either of the courts below. I also agree with the analysis of our past decisions found in Part II of MR. JUSTICE WHITE'S opinion. I cannot agree, however, that the actions of the Dallas City Council are distinguishable from those of the local governing body in East Carroll Parish School Bd. v. Marshall, 424 U.S. 636 (1976). I therefore conclude that the plan ordered by the District Court here must be evaluated in accordance with the federal common law of remedies applicable to judicially devised reapportionment plans." Id., at 550.
In his opinion announcing the judgment of the Court, JUSTICE WHITE pointed out that Texas had not been subject to the Voting Rights Act when the case was pending in the District Court. Id., at 542. JUSTICE POWELL also agreed with the decision not to address the Voting Rights Act. Id., at 549.
"The provisions of S. 1279 propose to amend the Act so that the special remedies, including Section 5 preclearance, will be operative for an additional ten years. Although the 1965 legislation and the 1970 amendments did, in large part, provide for only five year coverage periods at a time, the Committee concludes that it is imperative that a ten year extension now be adopted in order to insure the applicability of Section 5 protections during the reapportionment and redistricting which will take place subsequent to the 1980 Decennial Census.
"Approximately one-third of the Justice Department's objections have been to redistrictings at the state, county and city levels. (S. Hearings 539-540, 581-582). This past experience ought not be ignored in terms of assessing the future need for the Act. It is ironic that the Supreme Court's `one man-one vote' ruling [Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533 (1964)] has created opportunities to disfranchise minority voters. Having to redraft district lines in compliance with that ruling, jurisdictions may not always take care to avoid discriminating against minority voters in that process. By providing that Section 5 protections not be removed before 1985, S. 1279 would guarantee Federal protection of minority voting rights during the years that the post-census redistrictings will take place." S. Rep. No. 94-295, pp. 17-18 (1975) (footnote omitted) (Senate Report).
"Section 5, by providing that some of the States cannot pass state laws or adopt state constitutional amendments without first being compelled to beg federal authorities to approve their policies, so distorts our constitutional structure of government as to render any distinction drawn in the Constitution between state and federal power almost meaningless. One of the most basic premises upon which our structure of government was founded was that the Federal Government was to have certain specific and limited powers and no others, and all other power was to be reserved either `to the States respectively, or to the people.' Certainly if all the provisions of our Constitution which limit the power of the Federal Government and reserve other power to the States are to mean anything, they mean at least that the States have power to pass laws and amend their constitutions without first sending their officials hundreds of miles away to beg federal authorities to approve them." Id., at 358-359.
The right freely to vote must be safeguarded vigilantly. If a state law denies or impairs this right, in violation of the Constitution or of a valid federal law, the courts are the proper and traditional forum for redress.