Young v. Fordice

LOCATION: Arkansas State Capitol

DOCKET NO.: 95-2031
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)

CITATION: 520 US 273 (1997)
ARGUED: Jan 06, 1997
DECIDED: Mar 31, 1997

Brenda Wright - on behalf of the Appellants
Malcolm L. Stewart - for U.S. as amicus curiae, by special leave of the court
Malcolm L. Stewart - on behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the Appellants
Robert E. Sanders - on behalf of the Appellees

Facts of the case

In 1995, Mississippi attempted to simplify voter registration in accordance with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA). A "Provisional Plan" for registration replaced the "Old System," mandating that, among other things, driver's license applications could double as voter registration forms for state and federal elections. As required by the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), the U.S. Attorney General pre-cleared the Provisional Plan, confirming that it did not discriminate against minority voters. Mississippi abandoned the pre-cleared Provisional Plan in favor of a composite "New System," which used the Old System for state elections and both the Provisional Plan and Old System for federal elections. Mississippi assumed that the Attorney General's pre-clearance of the Provisional Plan extended to the New System. Thomas Young, a Mississippi citizen, filed suit against Governor Kirk Fordice, alleging a violation of the VRA. A three-judge District Court ruled in favor of Mississippi.


Did the state of Mississippi violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by implementing a new voter registration policy, the "New System," without explicit approval from the U.S. Attorney General?

Media for Young v. Fordice

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 06, 1997 in Young v. Fordice

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument now in Number 95-2031, Thomas Young v. Kirk Fordice.

Ms. Wright.

Brenda Wright:

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

This case arises because the State of Mississippi, since early 1995, has been conducting voter registration under procedures that have not been submitted for preclearance to the United States Attorney General or to the D.C. District Court, as required by section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

Because the section 5 preclearance requirement is so critical in protecting the right to vote in States such as Mississippi, Congress expressly provided in the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, the NVRA, that States must comply with the Voting Rights Act in implementing the NVRA.

Now, the procedures that Mississippi ultimately decided upon in implementing the NVRA established a twotier or dual system under which citizens who register under the provisions of the NVRA must also register separately to be able to vote in State elections, and a plan that implements the NVRA through that type of dual system reflects a change from the voter registration system that Mississippi had in effect prior to 19--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Well, may I ask you a question right here about that?

Suppose from the outset Mississippi had said we're not going to change our State and local registration system from what it's been.

We're going to keep it, but here are the changes we're offering to implement for Federal election purposes the NVRA.

Could the Department of Justice refuse to preclear such a scheme if Mississippi kept in place its State local registration scheme and had a proposal that met the statutory requirements for the NVRA?

Brenda Wright:

--Yes, it could Your Honor.

If the procedures that the State adopted were found by the Attorney General or the D.C. District Court to be discriminatory in purpose or effect, that objection could be made, and--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Well, even in the face of the fact that the NVRA requirements expressly state that they govern only Federal elections?

Brenda Wright:

--Well, Your Honor, in this case--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

There seems to be some indication in the statute itself that it never... Congress never purported to require a change in requirements for State and local elections.

Brenda Wright:

--It doesn't require that, that is true.

It leaves that decision up to the States, but--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

But you think that the Attorney General can make that a condition of any approval?

Brenda Wright:

--Well, it depends in part upon the State's specific history and the practices it had.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

In any section 5 State you think the Attorney General can insist on that?

Brenda Wright:

Mississippi had a unitary system by statute at the time the NVRA came into effect.

Sandra Day O'Connor:


Brenda Wright:

And we contend that the implementation of a dual system reflects a change from that unitary system.

Antonin Scalia:

It still does have the same unitary system in place.

You can still register for both Federal and State elections the same way you could before the NVRA provisions went in.

Brenda Wright:

But you have a--

Antonin Scalia:

Now you have an additional option.

If you want to use the easier method you can register for Federal elections, but as far as what a citizen of Mississippi can do by way of registering for both State and Federal, it is exactly the same as it was before, isn't it?

Brenda Wright:

--Well, our contention is this.

Antonin Scalia:

Except for the false start.