PERKINS V. MATTHEWS, 400 U. S. 379 (1971)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Perkins v. Matthews, 400 U.S. 379 (1971)

Perkins v. Matthews

No. 46

Argued October 20, 1970

Decided January 14, 1971

400 U.S. 379


Appellants, voters and candidates for city offices, sought to enjoin the 1969 election in Canton, Mississippi, alleging that the 1969 requirements differed from those in effect on November 1, 1964, and at the last city election in 1965, and that the city sought to enforce the changed requirements without following the approval procedure set forth in § 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Section 5 precludes a State or political subdivision covered by the Act from administering

"any voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure with respect to voting different from that, in force or effect on November 1, 1964,"

without first submitting the change to the U.S. Attorney General or securing a declaratory judgment from the District Court for the District of Columbia that the change does not have a racially discriminatory purpose or effect. Canton, which is covered by the Act, sought to enforce changes (1) in location of polling places, (2) in municipal boundaries through annexations of adjacent areas, thus increasing the number of eligible voters, and (3) from ward to at-large election of aldermen. Though at-large election of aldermen was called for by a 1962 Mississippi statute, the 1965 Canton election was by wards. A single District Judge, relying on Allen v. State Board of Elections, 393 U. S. 544, temporarily restrained the election, but a three-judge court, after examining the challenged changes to determine whether they had "a discriminatory purpose or effect," dissolved the injunction and dismissed the complaint.


1. The three-judge court should have considered only the issue of

"whether a particular state enactment is subject to the provisions of the Voting Rights Act, and therefore must be submitted for approval before enforcement."

Allen, supra, at 393 U. S. 559. Pp. 383-387.

2. Each of the challenged changes falls within § 5 as a "standard, practice, or procedure with respect to voting different from that in force or effect on November 1, 1964," and requires prior submission. Pp. 400 U. S. 387-395.

Page 400 U. S. 380

(a) Changed locations of polling places come within § 5 since such changes may affect one's ability to vote and may have a racially discriminatory purpose or effect. Pp. 400 U. S. 387-388.

(b) Changes in boundary lines through annexations, by determining who may vote in city elections through inclusion of certain voters and by diluting the weight of the votes of those who had the franchise prior to annexation, in view of the great potential for racial discrimination in voting, clearly come within the scope of § 5. Pp. 400 U. S. 388-394.

(c) The change from ward to at-large election of aldermen comes within the purview of § 5 since the procedure in fact "in force or effect" on November 1, 1964, was the election of aldermen by wards. Pp. 400 U. S. 394-395.

3. The appropriate remedy should be determined by the District Court after hearing the views of the parties. Pp. 400 U. S. 395-397.

301 F.Supp. 565, reversed and remanded.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court in which DOUGLAS, STEWART, WHITE and MARSHALL, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which BURGER, C.J.,joined, post, p. 400 U. S. 397. HARLAN, J., filed a concurring and dissenting opinion, post, p. 400 U. S. 397. BLACK, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 400 U. S. 401.

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