Branch v. Smith, 538 U.S. 254 (2003)

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254

OCTOBER TERM, 2002

Syllabus

BRANCH et al. v. SMITH et al.

appeal from the united states district court for the southern district of mississippi

No. 01-1437. Argued December 10, 2002—Decided March 31, 2003*

After the 2000 census caused Mississippi to lose one congressional seat, the state legislature failed to pass a new redistricting plan. Anticipating a state-law deadline for qualifying candidates, appellants and cross-appellees (state plaintiffs) filed suit in October 2001, asking the State Chancery Court to issue a redistricting plan for the 2002 elections. In a similar action, appellees and cross-appellants (federal plaintiffs) asked the Federal District Court to enjoin the current plan and any state-court plan, and to order at-large elections pursuant to Miss. Code Ann. 23-15-1039 and 2 U. S. C. 2a(c)(5) or, alternatively, to devise its own redistricting plan. The three-judge District Court permitted the state plaintiffs to intervene and concluded that it would assert jurisdiction if it became clear by January 7, 2002, that no state plan would be in place by March 1. On the eve of the state trial, the State Supreme Court ruled that the Chancery Court had jurisdiction to issue a redistricting plan. The Chancery Court adopted such a plan. On December 21, 2001, the state attorney general submitted that plan and the Supreme Court's decision to the Department of Justice (DOJ) for preclearance pursuant to 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. DOJ requested additional information from the State, noting that the 60-day review period would commence once that information was received. The information was provided on February 20, 2002. Meanwhile, the Federal District Court promulgated a plan that would fix the State's congressional districts for the 2002 elections should the state-court plan not be precleared by February 25. When that date passed, the District Court enjoined the State from using the state-court plan and ordered that its own plan be used in 2002 and until the State produced a precleared, constitutional plan. The court based the injunction on the failure of the timely pre-clearance of the state-court plan, but found, in the alternative, that the state-court plan was unconstitutional. The State did not appeal. DOJ declined to make a determination about the preclearance submission because the District Court's injunction rendered the state-court plan incapable of administration.

*Together with No. 01-1596, Smith et al. v. Branch et al., also on appeal from the same court.

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