City of Rome v. United States
Annotate this Case
446 U.S. 156 (1980)
U.S. Supreme Court
City of Rome v. United States, 446 U.S. 156 (1980)
City of Rome v. United States
Argued October 10, 1979
Decided April 22, 1980
446 U.S. 156
In 1966, appellant city of Rome, Ga., made certain changes in its electoral system, including provisions for majority, rather than plurality, vote for each of the nine members of the City Commission; for three numbered posts within each of the three (reduced from nine) wards; and for staggered terms for the commissioners and for members of the Board of Education from each ward; and a requirement that members of the Board reside in the wards from which they were elected. In addition, the city made 60 annexations between November 1, 1964, and February 10, 1975. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (Act) requires preclearance by the Attorney General of the United States or the United States District Court for the District of Columbia of any change in a "standard, practice, or procedure with respect to voting" made after November 1, 1964, by jurisdictions that fall within the coverage formula set forth in § 4(b) of the Act. Section 5 further provides that the Attorney General may clear a voting practice only if it "does not have the purpose and will not have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color." Georgia was designated a covered jurisdiction in 1965, and the municipalities of that State accordingly must comply with the preclearance procedure. Eventually, after at first having failed to do so, Rome submitted the annexations and the 1966 electoral changes for preclearance, but the Attorney General declined to preclear the above-enumerated electoral changes, concluding that, in a city such as Rome, in which the population is predominately white and racial bloc voting has been common, such electoral changes would deprive Negro voters of the opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice. The Attorney General also refused to preclear 13 of the 60 annexations, finding that the city had not carried its burden of proving that the disapproved annexations would not dilute the Negro vote. Subsequently, however, in response to the city's motion for reconsideration, the Attorney General agreed to preclear the 13 annexations for Board of Education elections, but still refused to preclear them for City Commission elections. The city and two of its officials then filed a declaratory judgment action in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, seeking relief from the Act based on a variety
of claims. A three-judge court rejected the city's arguments and granted summary judgment for the defendants, finding that the disapproved electoral changes and annexations, while not made for any discriminatory purpose, did have a discriminatory effect. The court refused to allow the city to "bail out" of the Act's coverage pursuant to § 4(a), which allows a covered jurisdiction to escape § 5's preclearance requirement by bringing a declaratory judgment action and proving that no "test or device" has been used in the jurisdiction during the 17 years preceding the filing of the action "for the purpose or with the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color."
1. The city may not use § 4(a)'s "bailout" procedure. In § 4(a)'s terms, the issue depends on whether the city is either a "State with respect to which the determinations have been made" under § 4(b) or a "political subdivision with respect to which such determinations have been made as a separate unit," and here the city fails to meet the definition of either term, since § 4(b)'s coverage formula has never been applied to it. The city comes within the Act only because it is part of a covered State, and, hence, any "bailout" action to exempt the city must be filed by, and seek to exempt all of, the State. Moreover, the legislative history precludes any argument that § 4(a)'s "bailout" procedure, made available to a covered "State," was also implicitly made available to political units in the State. Pp. 446 U. S. 162-169.
2. The 60-day period under the Attorney General's regulation requiring requests for reconsideration of his refusal to preclear electoral changes to be decided within 60 days of their receipt, commences anew when the submitting jurisdiction deems its initial submission on a reconsideration motion to be inadequate and decides to supplement it. Thus, here, where the city, less than 60 days prior to the Attorney General's decision on the city's reconsideration motion, submitted, on its own accord, affidavits to supplement the motion, the Attorney General's response was timely. A contrary ruling that the 60-day period ran continuously from the date of the initial submission of the reconsideration motion would mean that the Attorney General would, in some cases, be unable to give adequate consideration to materials submitted in piecemeal fashion, and might be able to respond only by denying the reconsideration motion. Pp. 446 U. S. 170-172.
3. By describing in § 5 the elements of discriminatory purpose and effect in the conjunctive, Congress plainly intended that a voting practice not be precleared unless both discriminatory purpose and effect are absent. Furthermore, Congress recognized this when, in 1975, it extended the Act for another seven years. Pp. 446 U. S. 172-173.
4. The Act does not exceed Congress' power to enforce the Fifteenth Amendment. Under § 2 of that Amendment, Congress may prohibit practices that, in and of themselves, do not violate § 1 of the Amendment, so long as the prohibitions attacking racial discrimination in voting are "appropriate." Here, the Act's ban on electoral changes that are discriminatory in effect is an appropriate method of promoting the Fifteenth Amendment's purposes, even if it is assumed that § 1 prohibits only intentional discrimination in voting. South Carolina v. Katzenbach, 383 U. S. 301. Congress could rationally have concluded that, because electoral changes by jurisdictions with a demonstrable history of intentional racial discrimination in voting create a risk of purposeful discrimination, it was proper to prohibit changes that have a discriminatory impact. Pp. 446 U. S. 173-178.
5. The Act does not violate principles of federalism. Principles of federalism that might otherwise be an obstacle to congressional authority are necessarily overridden by the power to enforce the Civil War Amendments "by appropriate legislation," Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer, 427 U. S. 445, such Amendments being specifically designed as an expansion of federal power and an intrusion on state sovereignty. Accordingly, Congress had the authority to regulate state and local voting through the provisions of the Act. Pp. 446 U. S. 178-180.
6. There is no merit to appellants' contention that the Act and its preclearance requirement had outlived their usefulness by 1975, when Congress extended the Act for another seven years. In view of Congress' considered determination that at least another seven years of statutory remedies were necessary to counter the perpetuation of 95 years of pervasive voting discrimination, the extension of the Act was plainly a constitutional method of enforcing the Fifteenth Amendment. Pp. 446 U. S. 180-182
7. Nor is there any merit to the individual appellants' argument that, because no elections have been held in appellant city since 1974, their First, Fifth, Ninth, and Tenth Amendment rights as private citizens of the city have been abridged. Under circumstances where, upon the Attorney General's refusal to preclear the electoral changes, the city could have conducted elections under its prior electoral scheme, the city's failure to hold elections can only be attributed to its own officials, and not the operation of the Act. Pp. 446 U. S. 182-183.
8. The District Court's findings that the city had failed to prove that the 1966 electoral changes and the annexations disapproved by the Attorney General did not have a discriminatory effect are not clearly erroneous. Pp. 446 U. S. 183-187.
450 F.Supp. 378 and 472 F Supp. 221, affirmed.
MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, WHITE, BLACKMUN, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., post, p. 446 U. S. 187, and STEVENS, J., post p 446 U. S. 190, filed concurring opinions. POWELL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 446 U. S. 193. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which STEWART, J., joined, post, p. 446 U. S. 206.