Northwest Austin Municipal Util. Dist. No. One v. Holder - Oral Argument - April 29, 2009

Northwest Austin Municipal Util. Dist. No. One v. Holder

Media for Northwest Austin Municipal Util. Dist. No. One v. Holder

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 22, 2009 in Northwest Austin Municipal Util. Dist. No. One v. Holder

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 29, 2009 in Northwest Austin Municipal Util. Dist. No. One v. Holder

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

We will hear argument this morning in Case 08-322, Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District v. Holder.

Mr. Coleman.

Gregory S. Coleman:

Good morning, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court: After more than 20 years of steadfast compliance with the Voting Rights Act, Northwest Austin MUD Number One is entitled to be free from the intrusive burdens of preclearance.

The district is entitled to seek a bailout because it is a political subdivision under the Court's decisions in Sheffield and Dougherty County.

This natural parallelism between bailout and preclearance allows bailout to serve its ameliorative purposes of encouraging, recognizing, and rewarding long-term compliance and progress--

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

It may be (.) it may be a political subdivision under those decisions, but it's certainly not a political subdivision under the statutory definition.

Gregory S. Coleman:

--Well, we disagree with that, Your Honor.

We believe that under Dougherty County in particular, the Court specifically recognized that these entities such as cities and school boards and utility districts are political subdivisions and that that term as it's used--

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

Bailout wasn't involved in those cases.

And what do you do with a statute that has three categories (.) the State, political subdivision, and then there's "governmental unit"?

The district qualifies as a governmental unit.

Why would Congress add that third category if the district came within "political subdivision"?

Gregory S. Coleman:

--Justice Ginsburg, the term "governmental unit" doesn't actually appear in the provision that authorizes bailout.

What it says is that when a political subdivision seeks a bailout that, if it has any governmental units within it, it must also ensure that they are compliant before it can have a bailout.

For instance, although the district is not a political subdivision of the county, it is in the county, and therefore under the substantive criteria, if the (.) Travis County wanted to bail out, it would have to demonstrate compliance of all of those governmental units within it.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

Yes, but the (.) but the statute does use the term "governmental unit" to encompass districts.

And if they were also subdivisions, why would Congress need to add an additional category?

Gregory S. Coleman:

Again, I disagree with Your Honor that (.) that the term "governmental unit" appears in the provision that defines criteria.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

It appears in the statute twice, suggesting that Congress had in mind three categories.

Gregory S. Coleman:

Again, the statute that defines who's eligible to bailout says a State, a political subdivision that has been separately designated for coverage under 4(b), and a political subdivision that has not been separately designated for coverage.

We were never separately designated for coverage.

And under Sheffield and Dougherty County, we have long been considered a political subdivision.

Indeed, we are subject to the process of preclearance only because we were a political subdivision.

The actual requirement that you send in preclearance submissions is on political subdivisions.

We are subject to lawsuits under section 2 because we are a political subdivision.

We are subject to the possibility of Federal examiners because we are a political subdivision.

At no place in this Voting Rights Act, in any of the dozens of the uses of the term "political subdivision" has this Court or Congress, other than the designation statute, separately suggested that a political subdivision such as the district would not be considered a political subdivision under the terms of the Voting Rights Act.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

Well, to the extent we have some latitude in construing the Act, certainly it would be a relevant factor if we concluded that it's just unworkable or impractical to have an uncovered jurisdiction within a county which is a covered jurisdiction.

They would have competing election days, competing election formulae.

And it would seem to me that that just makes compliance with the Act much more difficult.