Tag Archives: district

The Voting Rights Act

The Supreme Court ruled on Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 NAMUDNO v. Holder, No. 08-322 (2013), answering the question of the whether a district (not the state) could seek the bailout provision under the Voting Rights Act.

The decision of the Supreme Court is important here because it did not rule on the issue of whether the Voting Rights Act was constitutional.

Instead, the Supreme Court ruled that the district could use the “bailout” provision under the Voting Rights Act, even if the state could not.  In holding this, the Supreme Court explained that the district fell under the definition of a “State of political subdivision,” and thereby could use the “bailout” provision.

Generally, the Voting Rights Act requires certain states to get pre-clearance before making any changes to elections.  One of these states includes Texas.  However, there is a provision (“bailout”) that states that the state can seek a declaratory judgment from a three-judge panel District Court in Washington, D.C.  42 USC 1973(b)(a)(1), 1973c(a).  The bailout provision requires:

  • The state has not used any forbidden voting test for the last 10 years;
  • The state has not been subject to a valid objection under the Voting Rights Act section 5;
  • The state has not been found liable for other rights act violations; and
  • The state has engaged in constructive efforts to eliminate intimidation and harassment of voters.

The Voting Rights Act only authorizes a bailout suit by a State or political subdivision.  42 USC 19873b(a)(1)(A).

Here, the government argued that under the statutory definition of the bailout provision, a district could not seek a bailout provision.  The Act provided that a “‘political subdivision’ shall mean any county or parish, except that where registration for voting is not conducted under the supervision of a county or parish, the term shall include any other subdivision of a State which conducts registration for voting.” Section 14(c)(2).  The government argued that because the district was not a county or parish and did not conduct its own voter registration, the district was not covered under the Act.

However, the Supreme Court disagreed.  Citing previous Supreme Court cases, the Supreme Court stated the definition of a “political subdivision” must be broad and not limited to the statutory definition.  The Supreme Court explained,

Our decisions have already established that the statutory definition in [section] 14(c)(2) does not apply to every use of the term “political subdivision” in the Act.  We have, for example, concluded that the definition does not apply to the pre clearance obligation of [section] 5.

There, we expressly rejected the suggestion that the city of Sheffield was beyond the ambit of [section] 5 because it did not itself register voters and hence was not a political subdivision as the term is defined in [section] 14(c)(2) of the Act… [O]nce a State has been designed for coverage, [section] 14(c)(2)’s definition of political subdivision has no operative significance in determining the reach of [section] 5.

(markings in original).  Taking a broad approach, the Supreme Court ruled that a district was a political subdivision.

In addition, the Supreme Court noted that the 1982 amendments provided that even if the state could not bailout, a political subdivision might be able to assuming it met the bailout requirements.

via We gave you a chance: Today’s Shelby County decision in Plain English : SCOTUSblog.

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Class action plaintiff can’t avoid federal court

The SCOTUS blog reports on Standard Fire Ins. Co. v. Knowles, 11-1450 (2013).  Here, the Supreme Court held that federal courts aren’t bound by plaintiffs in proposed class actions who try to keep cases in state court by stipulating to the amount in controversy.

The Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday in a unanimous opinion by Justice Stephen G. Breyer. Lead plaintiffs don’t have the authority to bind others prior to class certification and their stipulations don’t make “a critical difference,” Breyer said.

At issue were provisions in the Class Action Fairness Act giving federal courts original jurisdiction in class actions when the aggregated amount in controversy exceeds $5 million and there are more than 100 class members.

Lead plaintiff Greg Knowles had filed his suit in Miller County, Ark., and stipulated that the amount in controversy was less than $5 million. His would-be class action against Standard Fire Insurance Co. had alleged the insurer underpaid claims for hail damage. According to the complaint, “hundreds, and possibly thousands” of people in Arkansas had similar claims.

A federal court considering Knowles’ bid to send the case back to state court had found that the amount in controversy would have exceeded $5 million, absent the stipulation.

Breyer said Knowles’ stipulation does not remove the case from the scope of the federal class-action law. “The stipulation at issue here can tie Knowles’ hands, but it does not resolve the amount-in-controversy question in light of his inability to bind the rest of the class,” Breyer wrote. “For this reason, we believe the district court, when following the statute to aggregate the proposed class members’ claims, should have ignored that stipulation.”

via SCOTUS: Class action plaintiff can’t avoid federal court by stipulating to amount in controversy – ABA Journal.

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