Bartlett v. Stephenson
535 U.S. 1301 (2002)

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OCTOBER TERM, 2001

Syllabus

BARTLETT ET AL. v. STEPHENSON ET AL.

ON APPLICATION FOR STAY No.0IA848. Decided May 17,2002

The application of North Carolina officials to stay a State Supreme Court decision invalidating the 2001 state legislative redistricting plan under the State Constitution is denied. That court held that the plan violated a state constitutional provision that does not allow a county to be divided when forming a senate or representative district. Harmonizing that provision with federal law, the court found that any new plan must preserve county lines except to the extent counties must be divided to comply with the United States Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. Applicants, who claim that a 1981 Department of Justice (DOJ) letter bars any consideration of the whole county provision in redistricting, do not satisfy the threshold requirement for the issuance of a stay. It is unlikely that four Members of this Court will vote to grant certiorari to resolve a dispute about the meaning of a single DOJ letter. This issue does not satisfy any of the criteria for the exercise of the Court's discretionary jurisdiction. And this case does not present the same situation as Lopez v. Monterey County, 519 U. S. 9, 19,21, and Clark v. Roemer, 500 U. S. 646, 654-655, in which this Court issued stays enjoining a covered jurisdiction from conducting imminent elections under an unprecleared voting plan.

CHIEF JUSTICE REHNQUIST, Circuit Justice.

Applicants, North Carolina officials charged with administering the State's elections, seek a stay of a decision of the Supreme Court of North Carolina invalidating North Carolina's 2001 state legislative redistricting plan under the North Carolina Constitution. The application is denied.

The Supreme Court of North Carolina held that the 2001 plan violated what is known as the "whole county provision" of the North Carolina Constitution, which provides that "no 1301


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Opinion in Chambers

county shall be divided in the formation of a senate or representative district," N. C. Const., Art. II, § 3(3). See 355 N. C. 354, 363, 562 S. E. 2d 377, 384 (2002). The court thus affirmed a lower court injunction enjoining applicants from conducting any elections under the 2001 plan and ordered that a new plan be drawn. Id., at 359-360, 386, 562 S. E. 2d, at 382, 398. The court directed the state trial court to conduct a hearing on whether it is feasible for the state legislature to develop a new plan for the 2002 elections. If it is not, then the trial court is directed to solicit plans and adopt one. Id., at 385, 562 S. E. 2d, at 398.

The Supreme Court of North Carolina recognized, however, that requirements of federal law will preclude the new plan from giving full effect to the "whole county provision." Id., at 371, 381, 562 S. E. 2d, at 389,396. The court therefore "harmonized" the state constitutional provision with federal law, ordering that the new plan "must preserve county lines to the maximum extent possible, except to the extent counties must be divided to comply with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act [of 1965, 79 Stat. 439, as amended, 42 U. S. C. § 1973c (1994 ed.)], and to comply with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, and to comply with the U. S. Constitution, including the federal one-person one-vote requirements." Id., at 359, 562 S. E. 2d, at 382. The court cited decisions in four other States that have reconciled similar county boundary requirements with federal law. Id., at 372, n. 3, 562 S. E. 2d, at 390, n. 3 (citing In re Apportionment of Colo. Gen. Assembly, 45 P. 3d 1237 (Colo. 2002); Hellar v. Cenarrusa, 106 Idaho 571, 574-575, 682 P. 2d 524, 527-528 (1984); Fischer v. State Bd. of Elections, 879 S. W. 2d 475,479 (Ky. 1994); State ex rel. Lockert v. Crowell, 631 S. W. 2d 702, 714-715 (Tenn. 1982)). And the Supreme Court of North Carolina ordered that the trial court shall seek preclearance of the new plan, with respect to the districts in the 40 North Carolina counties that are covered jurisdictions under § 5 of the Voting


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