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GEORGIA ET AL. v. UNITED STATES

decided: May 7, 1973.

GEORGIA ET AL
v.
UNITED STATES



APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF GEORGIA.

Stewart, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Douglas, Brennan, Marshall, and Blackmun, JJ., joined. Burger, C. J., filed an opinion concurring in the result, post, p. 541. White, J., filed a dissenting opinion in which Powell and Rehnquist, JJ., joined, post, p. 542. Powell, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 545.

Author: Stewart

[ 411 U.S. Page 527]

 MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Attorney General of the United States brought this suit under § 12 (d) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as amended, 42 U. S. C. § 1973j (d), to enjoin the State of Georgia from conducting elections for its House of Representatives under the 1972 legislative reapportionment law. A three-judge District Court in the Northern District of Georgia agreed that certain aspects of the reapportionment law came within the ambit of § 5 of the Act, 42 U. S. C. § 1973c, and that the State, which is subject

[ 411 U.S. Page 528]

     to the provisions of § 5,*fn1 had not obtained prior clearance from either the Attorney General or the District Court for the District of Columbia. Accordingly, and without reaching the question whether the reapportionment plan had the purpose or effect of "denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color," 42 U. S. C. § 1973c, the District Court issued the requested injunction.*fn2 The State brought this appeal. We noted probable jurisdiction, staying enforcement of the District Court judgment pending disposition of the appeal. 409 U.S. 911.

Following the 1970 Census, the Georgia Legislature set out to reapportion its State House of Representatives, State Senate, and federal congressional electoral districts. We are here concerned only with the reapportionment plan for the State House of Representatives.*fn3 The result of the legislature's deliberations was a plan (hereinafter the 1971 plan) that, as compared with the prior 1968 scheme, decreased the number of districts from 118 to 105, and increased the number of multimember districts from 47 to 49. Whereas the prior apportionment plan had generally preserved county lines, the 1971 plan did not: 31 of the 49 multimember districts and 21 of the 56 single-member districts irregularly crossed county boundaries. The boundaries of nearly all districts were changed, and in many instances the number of representatives

[ 411 U.S. Page 529]

     per district was altered. Residents of some 31 counties formerly in single-member districts were brought into multimember districts. Under continuing Georgia law, a candidate receiving less than a majority of the votes cast for a position was required to participate in a majority runoff election. Ga. Code Ann. § 34-1513. And in the multimember districts, each candidate was required to designate the seat for which he was running, referred to as the "numbered post." Ga. Code Ann. § 34-1015.

Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act forbids States subject to the Act from implementing any change in a "voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure with respect to voting" without first obtaining a declaratory judgment from the District Court for the District of Columbia that the proposed change "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," or submitting the plan to the Attorney General of the United States and receiving no objection within 60 days. 42 U. S. C. § 1973c. Pursuant to this requirement, the State of Georgia submitted the 1971 plan to the Attorney General on November 5, 1971. Two weeks later, a representative of the Department of Justice wrote to the State Attorney General, requesting further information needed to assess the racial impact of the tendered plan.*fn4 This information was received on January 6, 1972, and on March 3, 1972, the Attorney General of the United States formally objected to the State's plan. The objection letter cited the combination

[ 411 U.S. Page 530]

     of multimember districts, numbered posts, majority runoff elections, and the extensive departure from the State's prior policy of adhering to county lines. On the basis of these changes, plus particular changes in the structure of potential black majority single-member districts, the Attorney General was "unable to conclude that the plan does not have a discriminatory racial effect on voting." The letter stated that the Attorney General therefore felt obligated to "interpose an objection to changes submitted by these reapportionment plans."

The State Legislature immediately enacted a new reapportionment plan and repealed its predecessor. The 1972 plan increased the number of districts from 105 to 128, and decreased the number of multi-member districts from 49 to 32. Twenty-two of the multimember districts and 37 of the single-member districts still crossed county boundaries.

This 1972 plan was submitted to the Attorney General on March 15, and he objected on March 24. The Assistant Attorney General's letter stated, in part:

"After a careful analysis of the Act redistricting the Georgia House of Representatives, I must conclude that this reapportionment does not satisfactorily remove the features found objectionable in your prior submission, namely, the combination of multi-member districts, numbered posts, and a majority (runoff) requirement discussed in my March 3, 1972, letter to you interposing an objection to your earlier Section 5 submission. Accordingly, and for the reasons enunciated in my March 3, 1972, letter I must, on behalf of the Attorney General, object to S. B. 690 reapportioning the Georgia House of Representatives."

When the Georgia Legislature resolved that it would take no further steps to enact a new plan, the Attorney General brought the present lawsuit.

[ 411 U.S. Page 531]

     The State of Georgia claims that § 5 is inapplicable to the 1972 House plan, both because the Act does not reach "reapportionment" and because the 1972 plan does not constitute a change from procedures "in force or effect on November 1, 1964." If applicable, the Act is claimed to be unconstitutional as applied. The State also challenges two aspects of the Attorney General's conduct of the § 5 objection procedure, claiming, first, that the Attorney General cannot object to a state plan without finding that it in fact has a discriminatory purpose or effect, and, second, that the Attorney General's objection to the 1971 plan was not made within the 60-day time period allowed for objection under the Act.

I

Despite the fact that multimember districts, numbered posts, and a majority runoff requirement were features of Georgia election law prior to November 1, 1964, the changes that followed from the 1972 reapportionment are plainly sufficient to invoke § 5 if that section of the Act reaches the substance of those changes. Section 5 is not concerned with a simple inventory of voting procedures, but rather with the reality of changed practices as they affect Negro voters. It seems clear that the extensive reorganization of voting districts and the creation of multi-member districts in place of single-member districts in certain areas amounted to substantial departures from the electoral state of things under previous law. The real question is whether the substance of these changes undertaken as part of the state reapportionment are "standards, practices, or procedures with respect to voting" within the meaning of § 5.

The prior decisions of this Court compel the conclusion that changes of the sort included in Georgia's 1972 House reapportionment plan are cognizable under § 5. In South Carolina v. Katzenbach, 383 U.S. 301, we upheld the

[ 411 U.S. Page 532]

     basic constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act. Mr. Justice Black dissented from that judgment to the extent that it held every part of § 5 is ...


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