Perkins v. Matthews

LOCATION: C-M School Corporate Office

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1970-1971)

CITATION: 400 US 379 (1971)
ARGUED: Oct 20, 1970
DECIDED: Jan 14, 1971

Facts of the case


Media for Perkins v. Matthews

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 20, 1970 in Perkins v. Matthews

Warren E. Burger:

The next case on for arguments is Perkins against Matthews.

Mr. Derfner you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Armand Derfner:

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

This is an appeal under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Acts of 1965 of a three-judge court in the Southern District of Mississippi, a fourth such appeal in three terms of court.

First three having decided by this Court, reversing the lower court in the case of Allen versus State Board of Elections.

I believe the question on the merits here is quite simple and I plan to devote about a small portion of the argument in demonstrating the court below was wrong on all three of the questions that it faced.

The vital question in this case is a question for relief and that question goes to the heart of whether Section 5 of the Voting Rights Acts of 1965 is to be permitted to occupy the critical place that Congress intended for it in 1965 and reaffirmed in the strongest possible terms when it extended the Act in 1970.

To advert very briefly to the facts, the City of Canton in Mississippi for its municipal elections in 1969 adopted three changes from the procedure that it had governed the prior municipal election in 1965.

They went from individual board elections to at large elections in a town in which there are two wards that are very heavily black.

They moved the polling places, in one case from the town square to an old jail and in another case from the middle of the black neighborhood and heavily black ward to a point just adjacent to a newly annexed white neighborhood, and third, they extended the boundaries of the town in such a way as to add several hundred net additional white residents, that is several hundred more white residents than black residents.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Which are the black wards?

Armand Derfner:

wards, Mr. Justice Blackmun, are 3 and 4 and my brief gives, I believe the record too gives the registration figures for all the wards.

All these changes are familiar ones.

They are all changes of the type that had been submitted by other jurisdictions to the Attorney General as can be shown by looking at page 309 of the house hearings.

They are all changes of the type that Congress mentioned many, many times in the debates in 1969 and 1970 on the extension.

The best example of that is perhaps Congressman McCulloch who was perhaps the leading minority member in the House, involved both in the 1965 Act and 1970 extension.

He was in each of these three kinds of changes as types they were covered by the voting by Section 5.

Judge Nixon, the single judge, on the basis of the boundary extension alone granted an injunction against having the election.

The case then went forward and was decided by the three-judge court which held without quite saying ever, without saying actually that any of these changes that was not covered by Section 5, it went into the motives of the changes which this Court has conclusively held are to be decided only by the Attorney General or by the District of Columbia Court and pronounced these changes did not violate Section 5.


Armand Derfner:

Yes, of course we do.

What I am saying, however is that, that is not a question to be decided in this case.

This Court in the Allen case made it clear and I think Justice Harlan asked that precise question there that that is not a question we have to decide now or have to prove.

All we have to prove is, if there was a change and there is an adequate procedure set up by Section 5 to determine what the good faith or lack thereof was.

Warren E. Burger:

But if it has the effect and that has the effect of altering these lines invidiously in these balances, then you don't ever get to the question of motive, or you don't need to, is that right?

Armand Derfner:

That's right.

In fact, it doesn't even have to alter these lines invidiously.

All it has to do is alter these lines and at that point Congress says that is a matter that you cannot take up any place, but with the Attorney General of the United States or the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

That ends the matter in a Section 5 case.

The court below had only to decide as Judge Nixon said when he granted the temporary restraining order, I have to decide, was there a change?