National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. Hampton County Election Commission

PETITIONER: Hampton County Election Comm'n
RESPONDENT: National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
LOCATION: United States Courthouse

DOCKET NO.: 83-1015
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT:

CITATION: 470 US 166 (1985)
ARGUED: Nov 28, 1984
DECIDED: Feb 27, 1985

ADVOCATES:
Armand Derfner - on behalf of appellants
David A. Strauss - as amicus curiae supporting appellants
Treva G. Ashworth - on behalf of appellees

Facts of the case

Question

Media for National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. Hampton County Election Commission

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 28, 1984 in National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. Hampton County Election Commission

Warren E. Burger:

Mr. Derfner, I think you may proceed with a reduced audience here.

Armand Derfner:

Thank you.

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

This case involves a school board election in Hampton County, South Carolina, in particular, a special election held in March 1983 without the preclearance that we think is required under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

Hampton County is a small, rural county in the lower part of the state, just across the river from the State of Georgia.

It is approximately half black and half white.

It is divided into two school districts.

District 1 in the north is pretty well integrated, well financed because of a good tax base, including some industrial area, and has generally been fairly successful.

District 2 in the south is mostly black, a very poor school district, suffering largely from a very poor tax base.

These disparities between the two school districts have produced considerable political controversy in the county, especially controversy between supporters of a strong countywide board of education who have been mostly black, and those supporters of strong autonomous district boards who have been mostly whites, especially in the northern part of the county.

In 1982 this controversy culminated in the General Assembly's passing Act 549.

Act 549 abolished the county board and changed the district boards from appointed boards to elected district boards.

It provided that the elections for the district boards would be held in November along with the general elections, and it also provided that the first filing, that is, for the elections in 1982, would be conducted in August, on specified dates between August 16 and 31.

For reasons that will probably become clear, preclearance of this statute, which was passed in the spring of 1982, was not obtained until after the November election date, that is, until mid-November 1982.

Because preclearance had not been obtained, the election did not go forward.

However, despite the absence of preclearance, the Appellees, the election commission, had gone ahead with a filing period in August of 1982.

After preclearance was obtained, in the middle of November, the election commission then set about to set a special election.

They did so selecting a date in March 1983 without preclearing that date, and they also then selected a filing period also without preclearance.

The filing period happened to be the same dates in August of 1982 that they had previously had the previous year at a time when the statute had not been precleared.

In fact, that filing period was enforced in 1983 by turning away several candidates, including one of the plaintiffs, who appeared after the announcement of the March election and wanted to run in that election.

Those people were turned away.

This suit, therefore, was brought to stop the special election in March, chiefly because there had been no preclearance of the election date with filing period.

The District Court upheld the Appellees in both the setting of the special election without preclearance, and the setting of the filing period without preclearance on the grounds essentially that election dates and filing periods are in effect not covered by Section 5 because they are ministerial, administrative, or things of that sort, and in the alternative, the District Court held that when the department had cleared the statute at 549 in November, that that clearance was essentially blanket approval of all that had gone before as well as all that might come afterward, even though at the time of the Department's clearance in November it was not even known whether or when there would be a special election or what filing arrangements would be made.

William H. Rehnquist:

It was at least known then, though, that there would have to be a special election, wasn't it?

Armand Derfner:

It was known that... it would have been known that if the county, if the state wanted to proceed with the enforcement of Act 549, they would have to have an election at some point.

Whether they were going to have a special election or wait until the following November period in 1984, that wasn't known.

William H. Rehnquist:

Well, do you think it was very likely they would wait two years?

Armand Derfner:

I don't know.

I don't think there's any basis for having any idea what was going to happen.

There were people who had been elected because of a complicated procedural situation, and there were people there running the school systems who had been duly elected.