LOPEZ v. MONTEREY COUNTY

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
95-1201
Appellee 
Monterey County
Appellant 
Lopez
Opinion 
Advocates
(Sacramento, California; argued the cause for the appellees)
(Department of Justice, on behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the appellants)
(Argued the cause for the appellants)
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Facts of the Case 

Because Monterey County, California is a jurisdiction covered by section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, it must obtain federal preclearance of any voting practice different from its practices on November 1, 1968. Between 1972 and 1983, the County merged its nine separate and independent inferior court districts into a single, countywide municipal court served by judges whom County residents elected at large. In 1991, five Hispanic voters, who resided in the County, sued, alleging that the County had violated section 5 by failing to obtain federal preclearance of its judicial district consolidation ordinances. The County did not submit its ordinances after a three-judge District Court ruled against it. Rather, the County began to work with the voters to develop a new judicial election plan. Ultimately, the District Court ordered the County to conduct judicial elections under an at-large, countywide election plan.

Question 

May a district court issue an order that authorizes a county covered by section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to conduct judicial elections under an election plan that has not received federal approval pursuant to section 5?

Conclusion 
Decision: 9 votes for Lopez, 0 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Voting Rights Act of 1965

No. In a unanimous opinion delivered by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the Court held that the District Court had erred in ordering the county to conduct the election under a plan that had not received federal approval pursuant to section 5. The Court reasoned that the County had not discharged its obligation of gaining preclearance of its election plan prior to its enactment. On remand, the Court left it to the District Court to decide whether changes in California law transformed the County into a state plan, for which section 5 preclearance is not required.

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LOPEZ v. MONTEREY COUNTY. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 19 June 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1996/1996_95_1201>.
LOPEZ v. MONTEREY COUNTY, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1996/1996_95_1201 (last visited June 19, 2014).
"LOPEZ v. MONTEREY COUNTY," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed June 19, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1996/1996_95_1201.