In Chisom v. Roemer, ante, p. 380, we held that judicial elections, and, more specifically, elections of justices of the Supreme Court of Louisiana, are covered by § 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 79 Stat. 437, as amended in 1982, 42 U. S. C. § 1973. In these cases we consider whether the statute also applies to the election of trial judges in Texas. We hold that it does.
Petitioners in No. 90-974 are local chapters of the League of United Latin American Citizens, a statewide organization composed of both Mexican-American and African-American residents of the State of Texas, and various individuals. They brought this action against the attorney general of
Texas district courts are the State's trial courts of general jurisdiction. Electoral districts for Texas district judges consist of one or more entire counties. Eight of the districts included in these cases include a single county; the other district includes two counties. The number of district judges in each district at issue varies from the 59 that sit in the Harris County district to the 3 that sit in the Midland County district. Each judge is elected by the voters in the district in which he or she sits pursuant to an at-large, district-wide electoral scheme, and must be a resident of that district. Although several judicial candidates in the same district may be running in the same election, each runs for a separately numbered position. Thus, for example, if there are 25 vacancies in the Harris County district in a particular year, there are 25 district-wide races for 25 separately numbered positions. In the primary elections, the winner must receive a majority of votes, but in the general election, the candidate with the highest number of votes for a particular numbered position is elected.
Following a 1-week trial, the District Court ruled in favor of petitioners on their statutory vote dilution claim. It concluded that petitioners had sustained their burden of proving that under the totality of the circumstances "as a result of the challenged at large system [they] do not have an equal opportunity to participate in the political processes and to elect candidates of their choice," App. to Pet. for Cert. 290a-291a (footnote omitted); id., at 300a-301a. Although the District Court made no findings about the appropriate remedy for the proven violation, it urged the state legislature to select and approve an alternative district judge election scheme. The District Court also announced that it would entertain motions to enjoin future district judge elections pending the remedy phase of the litigation, should the legislature fail to adopt an alternative election scheme. When the state legislature failed to act, the District Court granted interim relief (to be used solely for the 1990 election of district judges in the nine districts) that included the creation of electoral subdistricts and a prohibition against the use of partisan elections for district judges. Respondents appealed.
A three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit reversed the judgment of the District Court, 902 F.2d 293 (1990), and petitioners' motion for rehearing en banc was granted, 902 F.2d 322 (1990). The en banc majority held that the results test in § 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as amended in 1982, is inapplicable to judicial elections. See 914 F.2d 620 (1990). In essence, the majority concluded that Congress' reference to
In a separate opinion, portions of which were joined by five other judges, Judge Higginbotham expressed his disagreement with the majority's conclusion that judges are not "representatives" within the meaning of the Act, but concurred in the judgment of reversal. His opinion relied on a distinction between state appellate judges and trial judges. Whereas the justices of the Louisiana Supreme Court have statewide jurisdiction, even though they are elected by voters in separate districts, and act as members of a collegial body, the Texas trial judge has jurisdiction that is coextensive with the geographic area from which he or she is elected and has the sole authority to render final decisions. Judge Higginbotham's opinion characterized trial judges "as single-office holders instead of members of a multi-member body," 914 F. 2d, at 649 (opinion concurring in judgment), because each exercises his or her authority independently of the other judges serving in the same area or on the same court. Given the State's "compelling interest in linking jurisdiction and elective base for judges acting alone," id., at 651, and the risk that "attempting to break the linkage of jurisdiction and elective base ... may well lessen minority influence instead of increase it," id., at 649, by making only a few district court judges principally accountable to the minority electorate rather than making all of the district's judges partly accountable to minority voters, he concluded that elections for single-member offices, including elections for Texas district court judgeships, are exempt from vote dilution challenges under § 2.
Chief Judge Clark, while agreeing with the judgment of reversal on grounds "expressly limited to the facts of the present case," id., at 631 (opinion concurring specially), disagreed
In a dissenting opinion, Judge Johnson argued that the Act applies to all judicial elections:
We granted certiorari in these cases, 498 U.S. 1060 (1991), and in Chisom v. Roemer, ante, p. 380, for the limited purpose of considering the scope of the coverage of § 2. As we have held in Chisom, the Act does not categorically exclude judicial elections from its coverage. The term "representatives" is not a word of limitation. Nor can the protection of minority voters' unitary right to an equal opportunity "to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice" be bifurcated into two kinds of claims
We deliberately avoid any evaluation of the merits of the concerns expressed in Judge Higginbotham's opinion concurring in the judgment because we believe they are matters that are relevant either to an analysis of the totality of the circumstances that must be considered in an application of the results test embodied in § 2, as amended, or to a consideration of possible remedies in the event a violation is proved, but not to the threshold question of the Act's coverage. Even if we assume, arguendo, that the State's interest in electing judges on a district-wide basis may preclude a remedy that involves redrawing boundaries or subdividing districts, or may even preclude a finding that vote dilution has occurred under the "totality of the circumstances" in a particular case, that interest does not justify excluding elections for single-member offices from the coverage of the § 2 results test. Rather, such a state interest is a factor to be considered by the court in evaluating whether the evidence in a particular case supports a finding of a vote dilution violation in an election for a single-member office.
Thus we disagree with respondents that the "single-member office" theory automatically exempts certain elections from the coverage of § 2. Rather, we believe that the State's interest in maintaining an electoral system — in these cases, Texas' interest in maintaining the link between a district judge's jurisdiction and the area of residency of his or her voters — is a legitimate factor to be considered by courts among the "totality of circumstances" in determining whether a § 2 violation has occurred. A State's justification for its electoral
Two examples will explain why the "single-member office" theory, even if accepted, cannot suffice to place an election for a single-member-office holder entirely beyond the coverage of § 2 of the Act. First, if a particular practice or procedure, such as closing the polls at noon, results in an abridgment of a racial minority's opportunity to vote and to elect representatives of their choice, the Act would unquestionably apply to restrict such practices, regardless of whether the election was for a single-member-office holder or not. Exempting elections for single-member offices from the reach of § 2 altogether can therefore not be supported. As we stated earlier, this statute does not separate vote dilution challenges from other challenges brought under the amended § 2. See supra, at 425-426.
Second, if the boundaries of the electoral district — and perhaps of its neighboring district as well — were shaped in "an uncouth twenty-eight-sided figure" such as that found in Gomillion v. Lightfoot, 364 U.S. 339, 340 (1960), and if the effect of the configuration were to produce an unnatural distribution of the voting power of different racial groups, an inquiry into the totality of circumstances would at least arguably be required to determine whether or not the results test was violated. Placing elections for single-member offices entirely beyond the scope of coverage of § 2 would preclude such an inquiry, even if the State's interest in maintaining
Because the results test in § 2 of the Voting Rights Act applies to claims of vote dilution in judicial elections, see Chisom, ante, at 404, and because the concerns expressed by Judge Higginbotham in distinguishing elections of Texas district court judges from elections of supreme court justices relate to the question whether a vote dilution violation may be found or remedied rather than whether such a challenge may be brought, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand these cases for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
JUSTICE SCALIA, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE and JUSTICE KENNEDY join, dissenting.
For the reasons stated in my opinion in Chisom v. Roemer, ante, p. 404, I would not apply § 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to vote dilution claims in judicial elections, and would therefore affirm the judgment below.
Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the State of Georgia by Michael J. Bowers, Attorney General, Carol Atha Cosgrove, Senior Assistant Attorney General, and David F. Walbert; for the State of Tennessee et al. by Charles W. Burson, Attorney General of Tennessee, John Knox Walkup, Solicitor General, and Michael W. Catatano, Deputy Attorney General, and by the Attorneys General for their respective States as follows: Jimmy Evans of Alabama, Winston Bryant of Arkansas, Robert A. Butterworth of Florida, Frank J. Kelley of Michigan, Hubert H. Humphrey III of Minnesota, William L. Webster of Missouri, Marc Racicot of Montana, Lacy H. Thornburg of North Carolina, Nicholas Spaeth of North Dakota, Robert H. Henry of Oklahoma, Ernest D. Preate, Jr., of Pennsylvania, and Ken Eikenberry of Washington; for the Florida Conference of Circuit Judges et al. by John F. Harkness, Jr., William F. Blews, Ronald A. Labasky, James Fox Miller, Benjamin H. Hill III, and Barry S. Richard; and for the Pacific Legal Foundation by Ronald A. Zumbrun and Anthony T. Caso.
Edwin F. Hendricks filed a brief for the American Judicature Society as amicus curiae.