Morse v. Republican Party of Va.,
517 U.S. 186 (1996)

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No. 94-203. Argued October 2, 1995-Decided March 27,1996

Appellee Republican Party of Virginia (Party) invited all registered Virginia voters willing to declare their support for the Party's nominees at the 1994 general election to become delegates to a convention to nominate the Party's candidate for United States Senator upon payment of a registration fee. Appellants Bartholomew and Enderson desired, and were qualified, to become delegates, but were rejected because they refused to pay the fee; appellant Morse paid the fee with funds advanced by supporters of the eventual nominee. Alleging, inter alia, that the imposition of the fee violated §§ 5 and 10 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, appellants filed a complaint seeking an injunction preventing the Party from imposing the fee and ordering it to return the fee paid by Morse. The three-judge District Court convened to consider the § 5 and § 10 claims granted the Party's motion to dismiss, concluding that the "general rule" that § 5 covers political parties to the extent that they are empowered to conduct primary elections is inapplicable to the selection of nominating convention delegates under a regulation promulgated by the Attorney General of the United States and under this Court's summary decision in Williams v. Democratic Party of Georgia, 409 U. S. 809; and that only the Attorney General has authority to enforce § 10.

Held: The judgment is reversed, and the case is remanded. 853 F. Supp. 212, reversed and remanded.


1. The Party's decision to exact the registration fee was subject to § 5, which, among other things, prohibits Virginia and other covered jurisdictions from enacting or enforcing "any voting qualification or prerequisite ... different from that in force ... on" a specified date unless the change has been prec1eared by the Attorney General. Pp. 193-229.

(a) The District Court erred in its application of the Attorney General's regulation, which unambiguously requires § 5 preclearance when a political party makes a change affecting voting if, inter alia, the party is "acting under authority explicitly or implicitly granted by a covered jurisdiction." Because Virginia law provides that the nominees of the


two major political parties shall automatically appear on the general election ballot, without the need to declare their candidacy or to demonstrate their support with a nominating petition, and authorizes the two parties to determine for themselves how they will select their nominees, whether by primary, nominating convention, or some other method, the Party "act[ed] under authority" of Virginia when it picked its candidate at the convention and certified the nominee for automatic placement on the general election ballot. Cf. Smith v. Allwright, 321 U. S. 649, 653, n. 6, 660, 663. Because the conclusion that the Party's activities fall directly within the regulation's scope is not contradicted, but is in fact supported, by this Court's narrow holding in Williams, supra, the District Court also erred when it based its dismissal of appellants' complaint on that case. Pp. 194-203.

(b) The Act's language and structure compel the conclusion that § 5 of its own force covers changes such as the Party's filing fee when the electoral practice at issue is a nominating convention. This Court has consistently construed the Act to require preclearance of any change bearing on the "effectiveness" of a vote cast in a primary, special, or general election, including changes in the composition of the electorate that votes for a particular office. See, e. g., Allen v. State Ed. of Elections, 393 U. S. 544, 570. By limiting the opportunity for voters to participate in the convention, the Party's filing fee undercuts their influence on the field of candidates whose names will appear on the ballot, and thus weakens the "effectiveness" of their votes cast in the general election itself. That § 5 covers nonprimary nomination methods is also supported by Whitley v. Williams, decided with Allen, supra; by the text and legislative history of § 14, which defines the terms "vote" or "voting" to include "all action necessary to make a vote effective in any ... election," including the selection of persons for "party office"; and by the text of § 2, which bans any racially discriminatory voting qualification or prerequisite if "the political processes leading to nomination or election ... are not equally open to ... [protected group] members." (Emphasis added.) Pp. 203-210.

(c) Consideration of the historical background which informed the 89th Congress when it passed the Act-particularly Terry v. Adams, 345 U. S. 461, and the other "White Primary Cases," in which the Court applied the Fifteenth Amendment to strike down a succession of measures by Texas authorities to exclude minority voters from their nomination processes-confirms the conclusion that § 5 applies here. None of the reasons offered to support appellees' contention that the White Primary Cases have no bearing on the Act's proper interpretation-(1) that the Party's convention did not operate in a racially discriminatory manner; (2) that, although the Act was meant to enforce the Fifteenth

Full Text of Opinion

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