OCTOBER TERM, 1997
CITY OF MONROE ET AL. v. UNITED STATES
ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF GEORGIA
No. 97-122. Decided November 17,1997
Before 1966, the city charter of Monroe, Georgia, did not specify whether a mayoral candidate needed a plurality or a majority vote to win election. In practice, the city used plurality voting until 1966 and majority voting thereafter. In 1966, Georgia's General Assembly amended Monroe's charter to require majority voting, but the change was never submitted for preclearance under § 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In 1968, the State passed the current Municipal Election Code, § 34A1407(a) of which contains a rule mandating deference to those municipal charters that provide for plurality voting and a default rule requiring a city whose charter has no plurality-vote provision to use majority voting. Section 34A-1407(a) was precleared by the United States Attorney General. When Monroe submitted its 1990 charter for preclearance, it did not ask to have the charter's majority-vote provision precleared. Nonetheless, the Attorney General objected to the provision and sued Monroe and city officials to enjoin majority voting and require a return to plurality voting. In granting the Government summary judgment, the three-judge District Court rejected Monroe's claim that preclearance of the 1968 state code encompassed Monroe's adoption of a majority system.
Held: Monroe may implement §34A-1407(a)'s precleared default rule.
The section's deference rule does not apply here because Monroe's charter does not have and has not had a plurality-vote provision. Thus, the District Court erred in basing its contrary conclusion on City of Rome v. United States, 446 U. S. 156, 169-170, n. 6, which concerned only the deference rule. In contrast, this case is controlled by the default rule. It therefore satisfies all of City of Rome's preclearance requirements: Georgia submitted the default rule to the Attorney General in an unambiguous and recordable manner and gave the Attorney General adequate opportunity to determine the purpose of the rule's electoral changes and whether such changes would adversely affect minority voting.
962 F. Supp. 1501, reversed.
The United States claims the city of Monroe, Georgia, did not seek preclearance for majority voting in mayoral elections, as required by § 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 79 Stat. 439, as amended, 42 U. S. C. § 1973c. The Government seeks to enjoin majority voting and to require Monroe to return to the plurality system it had once used. A threejudge District Court for the Middle District of Georgia agreed with the Government and granted summary judgment. 962 F. Supp. 1501 (1997). The District Court rejected Monroe's claim that the Attorney General's preclearance of a 1968 statewide law encompassed Monroe's adoption of a majority system. On Monroe's motion, this Court stayed enforcement of the judgment. 521 U. S. 1138 (1997). The case is now on appeal, and the judgment must be reversed.
The parties agree upon the facts. Until 1966, Monroe's city charter did not specify whether a candidate needed a plurality or a majority vote to win a mayoral election. In practice, the city used plurality voting in its elections until 1966 and majority voting thereafter.
In 1966, the General Assembly of Georgia amended the city's charter to require majority voting in mayoral elections. 1966 Ga. Laws 2459. Because Monroe is a jurisdiction covered by § 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the change had to be precleared. Georgia or Monroe could have sought preclearance by submitting the change to the Attorney General or seeking a declaratory judgment from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. Neither did, so the 1966 charter amendment was not precleared.
In 1968, the General Assembly passed a comprehensive Municipal Election Code (1968 code), which is still in force today. The statute applies to Monroe and all other municipalities in Georgia. Section 34A-1407(a) of the 1968 code