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U.S. Supreme Court

Harris County Comm'rs v. Moore, 420 U.S. 77 (1975)

Harris County Commissioners v. Moore

No. 73-1475

Argued November 11, 1974

Decided February 18, 1975

420 U.S. 77


Appellee justices of the peace and constables, threatened with removal before their elected terms expired, brought this action in federal court, challenging on due process and equal protection grounds the constitutionality of a Texas statute providing, inter alia, that, when the boundaries of certain precincts are changed and more than the allotted number of justices of the peace or constables reside within the changed district, the offices shall become vacant and shall be filled as are other vacancies. Under Texas constitutional provisions, (a) a justice of the peace or constable "shall hold his office for four years and until his successor shall be elected and qualified," and (b) such officers may be removed by state district court judges for various causes after notice and jury trial. A three-judge Federal District Court held that the statute violated equal protection by removing some county officers but not others, and ordered appellee officials' reinstatement.

Held: In view of the unsettled state of Texas law as to whether the state constitutional provisions ensure justices of the peace and constables tenure until their elected terms expire even when the challenged statute would require their ouster, the District Court should have abstained from deciding the federal constitutional issue, it being far from certain under various Texas precedents that appellee officeholders must lose their jobs or that the reinstatement relief ordered by the District Court is available. Pp. 420 U. S. 82-89.

378 F.Supp. 100, reversed and remanded.

MARSHALL, J., wrote the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and BRENNAN, STEWART, WHITE BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. DOUGLAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 420 U. S. 89.

Page 420 U. S. 78

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