Beer v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Mena Public High School

DOCKET NO.: 73-1869
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)

CITATION: 425 US 130 (1976)
REARGUED: Nov 12, 1975
DECIDED: Mar 30, 1976
ARGUED: Mar 26, 1975

James R. Stoner - for appellants
Lawrence G. Wallace - reargued the cause for the United States
Stanley A. Halpin, Jr. - for appellees Jackson and others

Facts of the case


Media for Beer v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Reargument - November 12, 1975 in Beer v. United States
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 26, 1975 in Beer v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 30, 1976 in Beer v. United States

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the Court in 73-1869, Beer against the United States will be announced by Mr. Justice Stewart.

Potter Stewart:

This case is here on appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act prohibits a state or any of its political subdivisions which are subject to Section 4 of the Act from enforcing, and I quote the statutory language, “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, 1964,” unless it has obtained a declaratory judgment from the District Court for the District of Columbia that such change, again the statutory language, “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 has submitted the proposed change to the Attorney General, and the Attorney General has not objected to it.

The constitutionality of this procedure was upheld soon after the enactment of statute in the case of South Carolina against Katzenbach reported at volume 383 of the United States Reports.

And it is now well-established through at least two of our decisions that Section 5 is applicable when a state or political subdivision adopts a legislative reapportionment plan.

The City of New Orleans brought this suit under Section 5, seeking a judgment, declaring that a reapportionment of New Orleans' councilmanic districts did not have the purpose or effect of denying or abridging the right to vote account of race or color.

The District Court entered a judgment of dismissal, holding that the new reapportionment plan would have the effect of abridging the voting rights of New Orleans’ Negro citizens.

The City appealed the judgment to this Court, claiming that the District Court had used an incorrect standard in assessing the effect of the reapportionment in this Section 5 suit, and we noted probable jurisdiction of the appeal.

It is undisputed that the reapportionment plan in question, adopted in 1971, will have the effect of substantially improving the position of Negro citizens in New Orleans with respect to their effective exercise of the electoral franchise.

For the reasons set out in some detail in the Court’s written opinion, we hold that an ameliorative new legislative apportionment, such as this, can not violate Section 5 unless the new apportionment itself so discriminates on the basis of race or color as to violate the constitution, and there is no claim in this case that this reapportionment is unconstitutional.

Accordingly, the judgment of the District Court is set aside and the case is remanded to that court for further proceedings consistent with the written opinion filed today with the clerk.

Mr. Justice White has filed a dissenting opinion.

Mr. Justice Marshall has also filed a dissenting opinion which Mr. Justice Brennan has joined and Mr. Justice Stevens took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you, Mr. Justice Stewart.