LOCATION: County of Riverside: District Attorney
DOCKET NO.: 90-952
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1990-1991)
CITATION: 500 US 646 (1991)
ARGUED: Apr 22, 1991
DECIDED: Jun 03, 1991
James A. Feldman - on behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae supporting the Appellants
Robert B. McDuff - on behalf of the Appellants
Robert G. Pugh, Jr. - on behalf of the Appellees
Facts of the case
Media for Clark v. RoemerAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 22, 1991 in Clark v. Roemer
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 03, 1991 in Clark v. Roemer
William H. Rehnquist:
The opinions of the Court in two cases will be announced by Justice Kennedy.
Anthony M. Kennedy:
The first case is Clark versus Roemer No. 90-952.
The case comes to us under our appellant jurisdiction as opposed to our certiorari jurisdiction.
It involves issues under Section five of the Voting Rights Act.
In order to prevent voting changes that have a discriminatory purpose or effect, Section 5 requires covered jurisdictions such as Louisiana to obtain pre-clearance.
This case involves the administrative pre-clearance mechanism in which before implementing new voting practices, the State of Louisiana was required to obtain approval from the attorney general of the United States.
The procedural history of the case is somewhat complicated in this detail in our opinion.
In essence, the case involves voting changes in Louisiana which the attorney general refused to pre-clear.
Despite the attorney general’s objections, the three-judge District Court, and that is the judgment that we review here, held that some of the electoral changes in issue were pre-cleared by implication when the attorney general pre-cleared related voting changes and some changes at a later date than the ones here in question.
The court also refused to enjoin elections despite certain voting changes that it conceited with subject to valid objections by the attorney general.
It reasoned that because the harm to all citizens of Louisiana from the injunction would outweigh the harm of allowing the elections to continue, the election should go forward and the winner should take office while the pre-clearance procedures were still ongoing.
In an opinion filed today with the clerk, we reverse.
The District Court erred by not enjoining elections for judgeships to which the attorney general interposed valid objections.
Unless voting changes are pre-cleared, they are invalid under federal law and unenforceable.
The District Court’s reasons for refusing to enjoin these elections lack merit.
Both the court and the state had notice for over three years prior to the election that the seats were unprecleared.
The court’s concerned about voter confusion and lower voter turn out and special elections was unjustified for voters may be more confused and inclined to avoid the polls when an election is held in violation of federal law.
Moreover, the court’s concern to avoid invalid State Court judgments counseled in favor of enjoining the elections in order to avert a federal law basis to challenge the state judgments.
The District Court also erred we think in ruling that the attorney general precleared by implication certain electoral changes.
Our decision in McCain versus Lybrand has made clear that submission of legislation for administrative pre-clearance under Section 5 defines the scope of the pre-clearance request.
Under normal circumstances a submission pertains only, to identified changes in that legislation, and ambiguity in the submission must be construed against the submitting jurisdiction.
Thus, the elections held for these seats violated Section 5.
The appellants now request us to order that these elections be set aside and that the judges be removed.
This is not a proper matter for us to consider in the first instance.
In fashioning its decree granting relief on remand, the District Court should adapt a remedy that in all of the circumstances of the case, implements the mandate of Section 5 in the most equitable and practicable manner and with least offense to its provisions.
The opinion for the court is unanimous.