Presley v. Etowah County Comm'n, 502 U.S. 491 (1992)

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appeal from the united states district court for the middle district of alabama

No. 90-711. Argued November 12, 1991—Decided January 27, 1992*

Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 requires a covered jurisdiction to obtain either judicial or administrative preclearance before enforcing any new "voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure with respect to voting." In various Alabama counties, voters elect members of county commissions whose principal function is to supervise and control county road maintenance, repair, and construction. In No. 90-711, the Etowah County Commission, without seeking preclearance, passed, inter alia, its "Common Fund Resolution," which altered the prior practice of allowing each commissioner full authority to determine how to spend funds allocated to his own road district. The resolution was passed by the four holdover members of the commission shortly after appellant Presley, a black man, and another new member were elected from districts established under a consent decree, the terms of which were precleared by the Attorney General. In No. 90-712, the Russell County Commission adopted a "Unit System," which abolished individual road districts and transferred responsibility for all road operations to the county engineer, a commission appointee. Neither the commission's resolution nor implementing state legislation was submitted for preclearance. Subsequent litigation led to a consent decree, which was precleared by the Justice Department without any mention of the Unit System changes, and under the terms of which appellants Mack and Gosha were elected as Russell County's first black county commissioners in modern times. They, along with Presley, filed suit in the District Court, alleging, among other things, that Etowah and Russell Counties had violated 5 by failing to obtain preclearance for, respectively, the Common Fund Resolution and the adoption of the Unit System. A three-judge court convened pursuant to 28 U. S. C. 2284 held that neither matter was subject to 5 preclearance.

Held: Neither the Common Fund Resolution nor adoption of the Unit System was a change "with respect to voting " covered by 5. Pp. 500-510.

*Together with No. 90-712, Mack et al. v. Russell County Commission et al., also on appeal from the same court.


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