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ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU NEWS RELEASE * NEWS RELEASE * NEWS RELEASE * NEWS RELEASE Voting Rights: Are Further Restrictions on the Way? Statement of Laughlin McDonald, Director, ACLU Voting Rights Project For IMMEDIATE RELEASE September 27, 1993 WASHINGTON -- On the first day of the 1993 Term, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in three voting rights cases from Florida and one from Georgia. The Florida cases, which have been consolidated and which involve the 1992 redistricting of the state House and Senate, are Johnson v. DeGrandy, DeGrandy v. Johnson, and United States v. Florida. The case from Georgia, Holder v. Hall which was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, is a challenge to the unique sole commissioner form of government in Bleckley County. The pending cases take on special significance because they are the first voting cases to reach the Court since the decision from last Term in Shaw v. Reno, arguably the most controversial voting rights decision of the decade. In Shaw, the Court held that white residents of North Carolina could challenge the state's majority African American 12th Congressional district where it was alleged to be "so bizarre on its face that it is 'unexplainable on grounds other than race."' Although the holding of the case is quite narrow -- few, if any, districts are as irregularly shaped as the 12th -- it established for the first time a federal cause of action under the Fourteenth Amendment based on district shape and opened the door for opponents of equal voting rights to question the propriety of all race-conscious redistricting. The Florida and Georgia cases provide the Justices who formed the majority in Shaw v. Reno with an opportunity to further restrict the scope of the Voting Rights Act and to check the substantial gains in minority political participation and office holding that have occurred since the amendment of the act in 1982, which facilitated voting rights challenges by adopting a discriminatory "results" standard for proving violations. The Florida cases involve challenges by Hispanic plaintiffs and the United States to the redistricting of the state House and Senate, and by the NAACP to the redistricting of the Senate. The issues are whether the state's plan violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, and whether the state should have drawn an additional Hispanic and an additional black Senate district in the Miami-Dade area, and two additional Hispanic districts in the Miami-Dade County area for the House. The three judge court found that the plaintiffs proved the plans for the House and Senate violated Section 2. As a remedy, it ordered into effect a new plan for the House containing two additional majority Hispanic districts. It declined to order a new plan for the Senate because it believed that drawing an additional Hispanic district would harm black voters and that drawing an additional black district would harm Hispanic voters. Thus, the case also presents the issue of reconciling the competing interests of two minority groups. The Hispanic plaintiffs and the United States appealed the Senate case on the grounds that they had proposed a plan for the Senate that would have provided one additional Hispanic and one additional black district, but which the three judge court failed adequately to consider. The House defendants appealed the House case on the grounds that Section 2 did not require the state to maximize the number of minority-controlled districts. The House defendants also contend that in determining adequacy of representation the court should have looked at the minority population in the Dade County area only, rather than the state as a whole, and that non-citizens should not be counted. The ACLU believes that the district court should have adopted the proposed plan providing additional representation to both minorities. In the Georgia case, Holder v. Hall, the African American plaintiffs contend that the use of the at-large elected sole commissioner form of government for Bleckley County dilutes their voting strength. The sole commissioner exercises all the legislative and executive powers of county government and is unique to the state of Georgia. All the other states use multi-member county governing authorities. Even in Georgia, the sole commissioner is the exception. Only 17 of the state's 159 counties use the sole commissioner form. The rest use multi-member boards, with five members being the most common size. According to the plaintiffs, the sole commissioner system is essentially a plantation form of government that denies blacks, who are 22 percent of the county's population, the equal opportunity to elect any county-wide legislative or executive positions. In upholding plaintiffs vote dilution claim, the court of appeals found that blacks in Bleckley County were geographically compact, politically cohesive and that the candidates of their choice were usually defeated by a bloc voting white majority. It further ruled that any remedy "could well be modeled" after the existing five single-member district plan for the county board of education. The sole question now before the Supreme Court is whether the single county commissioner "is subject to challenge as dilutive under Section 2." Defendants contend that a vote dilution theory has no application to a single-member office. It is the ACLU's position that a true single-member office is one that exercises predominantly executive powers and that has never been regarded as being divisible, such as a mayor or speaker of the House. The Bleckley County Commission, by contrast, exercises all the legislative powers of government and under state law may contain up to 12 members. Under these circumstances the ACLU believes, and the Court of Appeals held, that the principles of the Voting Rights Act can and should be enforced. The Voting Rights Act is widely regarded as the most successful civil rights act in our nation's history. It is not an exaggeration to say that the fate of the Act and continued progress in minority political participation could be determined in large measure by the Court's decisions in the cases it has already agreed to hear this Term. --endit-- ============================================================= ACLU Free Reading Room | A publications and information resource of the gopher:// | American Civil Liberties Union National Office | | "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty"


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