Wise v. Lipscomb,
437 U.S. 535 (1978)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Wise v. Lipscomb, 437 U.S. 535 (1978)

Wise v. Lipscomb

No. 77-529

Argued April 25, 1978

Decided June 22, 1978

437 U.S. 535


Respondents, Negro and Mexican-American residents of Dallas, Tex., brought this action for injunctive and declaratory relief against petitioners, the Mayor and members of the Dallas City Council, alleging that the City Charter's at-large system of electing council members unconstitutionally diluted the vote of racial minorities. After an evidentiary hearing, the District Court orally declared that system unconstitutional and then "afforded the city an opportunity as a legislative body for the City of Dallas to prepare a plan which would be constitutional." The City Council then passed a resolution expressing its intention to enact an ordinance that would provide for eight council members to be elected from single-member districts and for the three remaining members, including the Mayor, to be elected at large. After an extensive remedy hearing, the District Court approved the plan, which the City Council thereafter formally enacted as an ordinance. The District Court later issued a memorandum opinion that sustained the plan as a valid legislative Act. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the District Court had erred in evaluating the plan only under constitutional standards without also applying the teaching of East Carroll Parish School Bd. v. Marshall, 424 U. S. 636, which held that, absent exceptional circumstances, judicially imposed reapportionment plans should use only single-member districts.

Held. The judgment is reversed and the case is remanded. Pp. 437 U. S. 539-547; 437 U. S. 547-549.

551 F.2d 1043, reversed and remanded.

MR. JUSTICE WHITE, joined by MR. JUSTICE STEWART, concluded:

1. Federal courts, absent special circumstances, must employ single member districts when they impose remedial reapportionment plans. That standard, however, is more stringent than the constitutional standard that is applicable when the reapportionment is accomplished by the legislature. Here, after the District Court had invalidated the Dallas at-large election scheme in the City Charter, the city discharged its duty to devise a substitute by enacting the eight/three ordinance, which the District Court reviewed as a legislatively enacted plan and held constitutional despite the use of at-large voting for three council seats. Pp. 437 U. S. 539-543.

Page 437 U. S. 536

2. The eight/three ordinance was properly considered to be a legislative plan, and the Court of Appeals erred in evaluating it under principles applicable to judicially devised reapportionment plans. Pp. 437 U. S. 543-546.

(a) No special reason for not applying the standard applicable to a legislatively devised plan can be found in the provisions of Texas law that specify that a city charter can be amended only by a vote of the people, for the City Council, in enacting the plan, did not purport to amend the Charter, but only to exercise its legislative powers after the Charter provision had been declared unconstitutional. P. 437 U. S. 544.

(b) East Carroll Parish School Bd., supra, does not support the conclusion of the Court of Appeals that the plan presented by the city must be viewed as judicial, and therefore as subject to a level of scrutiny more stringent than that required by the Constitution, rather than legislative. In reaching the conclusion that singe-member districts are to be preferred, the Court emphasized that the bodies that submitted the plans did not purport to reapportion themselves, and could not legally do so under federal law because state legislation providing them with such powers had been disapproved under § 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. On the facts of the instant case, however, unlike the situation in East Carroll Parish School Bd., the Dallas City Council validly met its responsibility of replacing the invalid apportionment provision with one that could withstand constitutional scrutiny. Pp. 437 U. S. 545-546.

3. Though it has been urged that § 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which became applicable to Texas while this case was pending on appeal, barred effectuation of the challenged ordinance absent the clearance mandated by § 5, that issue was not dealt with by the Court of Appeals, and should more appropriately be considered by that court on remand. Pp. 437 U. S. 546-547.

MR. JUSTICE POWELL, joined by THE CHIEF JUSTICE, MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN, and MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST, while agreeing that the eight/three ordinance was a "legislative plan" for purposes of federal court review, concluded that the instant case is controlled by Burns v. Richardson, 384 U. S. 73. By analogy to the reasoning of that case, the eight/three plan must be considered legislative, even if the Council had no power to apportion itself, a Charter amendment being necessary to that end. Under the Burns rule, whereby

"a State's freedom of choice to devise substitutes for an apportionment plan found unconstitutional . . . should not be restricted beyond the clear commands of the Equal Protection Clause,"

plans proposed by the local body must be regarded as "legislative" even if, as in that case, the Court's examination of state law suggests that the local body lacks authority to reapportion

Page 437 U. S. 537

itself. To the extent that East Carroll Parish School Bd. implies anything further about the principle established in Burns, the latter must be held to control. Pp. 437 U. S. 547-549.

WHITE, J., announced the Court's judgment and delivered an opinion, in which STEWART, J., joined. POWELL, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, in which BURGER, C.J., and BLACKMUN and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined, post, p. 437 U. S. 547. REHNQUIST, J., filed a separate opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART and POWELL, JJ., joined, post, p. 437 U. S. 549. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and STEVENS, JJ., joined, post, p. 437 U. S. 550.

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