Georgia v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Allegheny County District Court

DOCKET NO.: 72-75
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)

CITATION: 411 US 526 (1973)
ARGUED: Feb 21, 1973 / Feb 22, 1973
DECIDED: May 07, 1973

Harold N. Hill, Jr. - for appellants
Lawrence G. Wallace - argued the cause for the United States

Facts of the case


Media for Georgia v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 22, 1973 in Georgia v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 21, 1973 in Georgia v. United States

Warren E. Burger:

We?ll hear arguments next in 72-75, Georgia against the United States.

Mr. Hill, you may proceed.

Harold N. Hill, Jr.:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

This case is on appeal from a decision of a three-judge court in Georgia.

The appeal involves the possible applicability of Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, to state legislative reapportionment acts and I think it would also necessarily involve congressional redistricting acts.

But, it particularly involves the reapportionment act, particularly the use by a state of multimember districts.

It also involves the Attorney General's regulations for administering Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

Very briefly stated, the fact is that the Attorney General disapproved two reapportionment plans for the Georgia House of Representatives.

He objected to Georgia?s use of multimember districts, which Georgia has been using since at least 1880.

When the Georgia legislature met on the last night of its regular 1972 Legislative session and it was unable to divide all of the multimember districts into single-member districts, they passed a resolution seeking to involve the aid of the Federal District Court and this suit was filed by the United States.

There are four questions presented by the appeal.

The first is, is Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act applicable to state legislative reapportionment acts, and if so, is Section 5 constitutional as thus applied.

It is the contention of the State of Georgia with respect to this question, that a reapportionment act is not a voting change within the meaning of Section 5, such that it has to be submitted to the Justice Department for approval.

If we are in error in this contention, then it is our contention that Section 5, as applied to reapportionment, is unconstitutional in that it is not appropriate legislation within the meaning of Section 2 of the Fifteenth Amendment.

The Fifteenth Amendment of course, being the source of authority for the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the question determined in the Katzenbach versus South Carolina having said that the Voting Rights Act was appropriate legislation in the context of that case within the meaning of the Fifteenth Amendment.

The second question raised, is does the prior submission requirement of Section 5 limit the Attorney General to disapproving the change in State Law or can he, under Section 5, disapprove things which have not changed such as Georgia?s use of multimember districts?

The third question is, does Section 5 empower the Attorney General to disapprove a State Law which he does not find it to be discriminatory, but above which he is unable to reach a decision?

There are other questions subsidiary to this third question such as does the Attorney General have the authority to promulgate regulations, any regulations, particularly regulations placing the burden of proof on the submitting state thereby, establishing his civil rights division as a court without providing the submitting state with notice of any charges and opportunity to examine the material on which his decision is to be based.

The final question is, does the Attorney General have the power to extend the 60-day time limit Congress placed upon him in Section 5 of the Act?

Does he have the power to adapt regulations and if he does have that power, which we submit he does not, does that power include the power to amend a law of Congress?

The lower court ruled in favor of the Government on all of these issues.

Georgia began using multimember districts in its House of Representatives in 1880.

In 1917, it adapted the majority vote requirement as to certain offices.

That is the requirement of the candidate in order to be nominated in a primary or elected in the election must receive a majority of the vote as opposed some states used plurality.

As a consequence, Georgia has a runoff in case nobody gets a majority in the first election, there is a second election, a runoff election in which the two top candidates compete against each other, so that one of them ends up with the majority in most cases.

In 1953, Georgia adapted the designated post requirement.

That is to say that if you are a candidate for a multimember district, you must designate one of those multimember seats that you want.

In 1962, the majority vote requirement was made applicable to legislators in primaries.

It has not theretofore been applicable to House Representative members.

In 1964, June 24, 1964, the majority requirement was made applicable to legislators in elections as well as primaries.