United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburgh v. Carey

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430 U.S. 144 (1977), argued 6 Oct. 1976, decided 1 Mar. 1977 by vote of 7 to 1; White for the Court, Burger in dissent, Marshall not participating. In this case, the Supreme Court held constitutional a New York State reapportionment plan that was based upon a fixed racial quota. In 1972, the State of New York reapportioned three counties for congressional, state senate, and state assembly seats. Pursuant to provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, New York was required to seek approval of the plan by the United States attorney general. The attorney general found that the state had failed to demonstrate that the plan had neither the purpose nor the effect of abridging the right to vote by reason of race or color with respect to state assembly and senate districts in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Kings County (Brooklyn).

The plan for Kings County included the Williamsburgh area, a community whose population included approximately 30,000 Hasidic Jews. Previously, and again in the 1972 plan, the Hasidic community was located entirely in one district for representation in both the state assembly and senate. Based on representations that only a 65 percent non-white assembly district would be acceptable to the attorney general, the State of New York submitted a revised plan that split the Hasidic community into two state assembly and senate districts.

Before the attorney general gave his approval to the revised reapportionment proposal, the Hasidic community brought suit for injunctive and declaratory relief in district court, alleging that the new plan was discriminatory under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. The district court granted motions to dismiss the suit on grounds that Hasidic Jews enjoyed no constitutional right to recognition as a separate community; in re-apportionment, that Hasidic Jews had not been and were not disfranchised, and that under the Voting Rights Act racial considerations could legitimately be invoked in order to correct past discrimination.

The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that the plan did not discriminate against the plaintiffs as white voters, finding no intent by the State of New York to eliminate or to minimize white voting power in Kings County. Because the New York legislature had previously violated the Voting Rights Act, the majority did not consider the constitutional question whether a state legislature could draw district lines on the basis of race in order to achieve a proportional or equal representation of white and nonwhite voters. Relying on the Voting Rights Act and Allen v. Board of Elections (1969), the appeals court found that consideration of race was proper in reapportionment cases to correct invidious discrimination against nonwhites.

The Supreme Court held that under the Voting Rights Act the state's action was clearly constitutional. Four members of the Court agreed with the Second Circuit that (1) the use of racial criteria in drawing district lines may be required by section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, (2) under the act, the use of racial criteria is not limited to remedies of explicit prior discrimination, and (3) the use of numerical racial quotas in establishing certain black majority districts does not automatically violate the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. Writing for the plurality, Justice Byron White agreed with the lower court's interpretation of the Voting Rights Act and its interpretation of the decisions upholding the act's constitutionality. Given the proper conditions for invoking the act, the use of explicitly racial criteria is appropriate whether or not there is a finding of prior discrimination. Justice Potter Stewart's separate concurring opinion, in which Justice Lewis Powell joined, emphasized the lack of any showing of purposeful discrimination in the New York redistricting.


Subjects: Law.

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