Texas v. United States,
523 U.S. 296 (1998)

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No. 97-29. Argued January 14, 1998-Decided March 31, 1998

In 1995, the Texas Legislature enacted a comprehensive scheme (Chapter 39) that holds local school boards accountable to the State for student achievement in the public schools. When a school district falls short of Chapter 39's accreditation criteria, the State Commissioner of Education may select from 10 possible sanctions, including appointment of a master to oversee the district's operations, Tex. Educ. Code Ann. § 39.131(a)(7), or appointment of a management team to direct operations in areas of unacceptable performance or to require contracting out of services, § 39.131(a)(8). Texas, a covered jurisdiction under § 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, submitted Chapter 39 to the United States Attorney General for a determination whether any of the sanctions affected voting and thus required preclearance. While the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights did not object to §§ 39.131(a)(7) and (8), he cautioned that under certain circumstances their implementation might result in a § 5 violation. Texas subsequently filed a complaint in the District Court, seeking a declaration that § 5 does not apply to the §§ 39.131(a)(7) and (8) sanctions. The court did not reach the merits of the case because it concluded that Texas's claim was not ripe.

Held: Texas's claim is not ripe for adjudication. A claim resting upon "'contingent future events that may not occur as anticipated, or indeed may not occur at all,'" is not fit for adjudication. Thomas v. Union Carbide Agricultural Products Co., 473 U. S. 568, 580-581. Whether the problem Texas presents will ever need solving is too speculative. Texas will appoint a master or management team only after a school district falls below state standards and the Commissioner has tried other, less intrusive sanctions. Texas has not pointed to any school district in which the application of § 39.131(a)(7) or (8) is currently foreseen or even likely. Even if there were greater certainty regarding implementation, the claim would not be ripe because the legal issues Texas raises are not yet fit for judicial decision and because the hardship to Texas of withholding court consideration until the State chooses to implement one of the sanctions is insubstantial. See Abbott Laboratories v. Gardner, 387 U. S. 136, 149. Pp. 300-302.



SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Javier Aguilar, Special Assistant Attorney General of Texas, argued the cause for appellant. With him on the briefs were Dan Morales, Attorney General, Jorge Vega, First Assistant Attorney General, and Deborah A. Verbil, Special Assistant Attorney General.

Paul R. Q. Wolfson argued the cause for the United States. With him on the brief were Solicitor General Waxman, Acting Assistant Attorney General Pinzler, Deputy Solicitor General Wallace, Mark L. Gross, and Miriam R. Eisenstein. *

JUSTICE SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court. Appellant, the State of Texas, appeals from the judgment of a three-judge District Court for the District of Columbia. The State had sought a declaratory judgment that the preclearance provisions of § 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 79 Stat. 439, as amended, 42 U. S. C. § 1973c, do not apply to implementation of certain sections of the Texas Education Code that permit the State to sanction local school districts for failure to meet state-mandated educational achievement levels. This appeal presents the question whether the controversy is ripe.


In Texas, both the state government and local school districts are responsible for the public schools. There are more than 1,000 school districts, each run by an elected school board. In 1995, the Texas Legislature enacted a

* Daniel J. Popeo filed a brief for the Washington Legal Foundation et al. as amici curiae urging reversal.

Pamela S. Karlan, Laughlin McDonald, Neil Bradley, Cristina Correia, Elaine R. Jones, Theodore M. Shaw, Norman J. Chachkin, Jacqueline Berrien, Victor A. Bolden, and Steven R. Shapiro filed a brief for the American Civil Liberties Union et al. as amici curiae urging affirmance.

Full Text of Opinion



  • Antonin Scalia (Author)

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