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Supreme Court of the United States
January 14, 1998, Argued ; March 31, 1998, Decided
[***409] [**1258] [*297] JUSTICE SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court.
Appellant, the State of Texas, appeals from the judgment of a three-judge district court for the District of Columbia. The State had sought a declaratory judgment that the preclearance provisions of § 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 79 Stat. 439, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 1973c, do not apply to implementation of certain sections of the Texas Education Code that permit the State to sanction local school districts for failure to meet state-mandated educational achievement levels. This appeal presents the question whether the controversy is ripe.
In Texas, both the state government and local school districts are responsible for the public [****4] schools. There are more than 1,000 school districts, each run by an elected school board. In 1995, the Texas Legislature enacted a [*298] comprehensive scheme (Chapter 39) that holds local school boards accountable to the State for student achievement. Tex. Educ. Code Ann. §§ 39.021-39.131 (1996). Chapter 39 contains detailed prescriptions for assessment of student academic skills, development of academic performance indicators, determination of accreditation status for school districts, and imposition of accreditation sanctions. It seeks to measure the academic performance of Texas schoolchildren, to reward the schools and school districts that achieve the legislative goals, and to sanction those that fall short.
When a district fails to satisfy the State's accreditation criteria, the State Commissioner of Education may select from 10 possible sanctions that are listed in ascending order of severity. §§ 39.131(a)(1)-(10). Those include, "to the extent the Commissioner determines necessary," [***410] § 39.131(a), appointing a master to oversee the district's operations, § 39.131(a)(7), or appointing a management team to direct the district's operations in areas of unacceptable performance or to [****5] require [**1259] the district to contract for services from another person, § 39.131(a)(8). When the Commissioner appoints masters or management teams, he "shall clearly define their powers and duties" and shall review the need for them every 90 days. § 39.131(e). A master or management team may approve or disapprove any action taken by a school principal, the district superintendent, or the district's board of trustees, and may also direct them to act. §§ 39.131(e)(1), (2). State law prohibits masters or management teams from taking any action concerning a district election, changing the number of members on or the method of selecting the board of trustees, setting a tax rate for the district, or adopting a budget which establishes a different level of spending for the district from that set by the board. §§ 39.131(e)(3)-(6).
] Texas is a covered jurisdiction under § 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, see 28 CFR pt. 51, App. (1997), and consequently, before it can implement changes affecting voting [*299] it must obtain preclearance from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia or from the Attorney General of the United States. 42 U.S.C. § 1973c. Texas submitted Chapter 39 [****6] to the Attorney General for administrative preclearance. The Assistant Attorney General 1 requested further information, including the criteria used to select special masters and management teams, a detailed description of their powers and duties, and the difference between their duties and those of the elected boards. The State responded by pointing out the limits placed on masters and management teams in § 39.131(e), and by noting that the actual authority granted "is set by the Commissioner at the time of appointment depending on the needs of the district." App. to Juris. Statement 99a. After receiving this information, the Assistant Attorney General concluded that the first six sanctions do not affect voting and therefore do not require preclearance. He did not object to §§ 39.131(a)(7) and (8), insofar as the provisions are "enabling in nature," but he cautioned that "under certain foreseeable circumstances their implementation may result in a violation of Section 5" which would require preclearance. Id., at 36a.
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523 U.S. 296 *; 118 S. Ct. 1257 **; 140 L. Ed. 2d 406 ***; 1998 U.S. LEXIS 2302 ****; 66 U.S.L.W. 4234; 98 Cal. Daily Op. Service 2328; 98 Daily Journal DAR 3181; 1998 Colo. J. C.A.R. 1540; 11 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 437
TEXAS, APPELLANT v. UNITED STATES ET AL.
Prior History: [****1] ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA.
management team, appoint, school district, district court, preclearance, sanctions, ripe, voting
Civil Rights Law, Protection of Rights, Voting Rights, Preclearance, Civil Procedure, Justiciability, Ripeness, Tests for Ripeness, Constitutional Law, The Judiciary, Case or Controversy, Ripeness, General Overview