LOCATION: Louisiana General Assembly
DOCKET NO.: 90-757
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1990-1991)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
CITATION: 501 US 380 (1991)
ARGUED: Apr 22, 1991
DECIDED: Jun 20, 1991
Kenneth W. Starr - on behalf of the Petitioner United States
Pamela S. Karlan - on behalf of the Petitioners Chisom, et al
Robert G. Pugh, Jr. - on behalf of the Respondents
Facts of the case
The Louisiana Supreme Court had 7 judges. The First Supreme Court District elected 2 judges, and the 5 other districts elected 1 judge each. The Orleans Parish was 1 of 4 parishes in the First Supreme Court District and the majority of its registered voters were black. However, more than 75% of the other 3 parishes' registered voters were white. Ronald Chisom and the other petitioners in this case, representing New Orleans's black majority, filed an action in the District Court against Louisiana's governor, Charles E. Roemer, and state officials, arguing that the state's justice election procedure weakened the minority's voting power, allegedly violating section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The 1982 amendment to this act prohibited any voting procedure which caused minority voters to "have less opportunity than other members of the electorate to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice." The District Court ruled against the petitioners. When the Court of Appeals evaluated the case, it sent the case back to the District Court with instructions to maintain the original ruling based partly on its claim that the 1982 amendment to section 2 of the Voting Rights Act did not apply to the election of judges. The District Court maintained their original opinion, but the petitioners and the United States appealed.
Does the 1982 amendment to section 2 of the Voting Rights Act apply to judicial elections?
Media for Chisom v. RoemerAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 22, 1991 in Chisom v. Roemer
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 20, 1991 in Chisom v. Roemer
William H. Rehnquist:
The opinions of the Court in two cases will be announced by Justice Stevens.
John Paul Stevens:
The two cases I have to announce are Chisom against Roemer and the League of United Latin-American Citizens Council against Clemens.
Both of the cases come to us on writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
They both present the same basic question concerning the coverage of Section two of the Voting Rights Act as amended in 1982.
One of them is a challenge to the method of electing the two members of the Louisiana Supreme Court who represent the four parishes that comprise the New Orleans metropolitan area.
The other is a challenge to the method of electing trial judges in 10 counties in Texas.
In both cases in this court, the petitioners rely exclusively on Section two of the Voting Rights Act.
And in both cases, the Fifth Circuit held that their claims are outside the coverage of the statute.
The basic question presented then is whether the so-called results test that was added to the Voting Rights Act in 1982 is applicable to a claim alleging that an at large method of electing judges violates the statute, or stating the question somewhat differently whether Section 2 is amended has the same application to judicial elections that it has to the election of other public officials.
The word of history will help explain the issue.
The Fifteenth Amendment to the constitution broadly provides that the right of citizens to vote shall not be denied or abridged by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
Section two of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was essentially a statutory qualification of that provision.
It unquestionably applied to all state elections, including the elections of legislators, executive officials, and judges.
In 1980, in the case of City of Mobil against Boldon, a plurality of this court concluded that neither the 15th Amendment nor Section two was violated unless the plaintiff could prove intentional discrimination.
That decision prompted congress to amend the statute in 1982 to eliminate the requirement of proof of intentional discrimination and to substitute a so-called results test under which a violation can be proved by evidence that an election practice has resulted in the denial or abridgment of the right to vote based on color or race.
Because language in the amendment describing the results test refers to the need to prove that members of the protected class have less opportunity than other members of the electorate to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice.
The majority of the judges on the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit focusing their attention on the use of the word, representatives, included that congress did not intend a new test to be applicable to judicial elections or at least to every discriminatory practice used in judicial elections.
We disagree with this reading of the statute.
We conclude that the coverage provided by the 1982 amendment is co-extensive with the coverage provided by the Act prior to 1982 and the judicial elections are embraced within that coverage.
The amendment was unquestionably intended to expand the protection of the statute and our examination of the extensive legislative history of the amendment discloses no evidence whatsoever that congress intended to exclude any category of elections whether of judges, executive officials, or legislatures from the protection afforded by that amendment.
We believe that if congress had intended to exclude any category of claims involving judicial elections from coverage under the amended Act that it would have said so explicitly.
Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in both cases and remand for further proceedings.
Justice Scalia has filed a dissenting opinion in which the Chief Justice and Justice Kennedy have joined.
And Justice Kennedy has also filed a separate dissenting statement in one of the cases.