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Court Sides With Ga. City on Voting

November 17, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court today allowed a Georgia city to continue electing its mayor and city council members by at-large majority votes despite the Justice Department’s objections.

The court, by a 7-2 vote, reversed rulings that had said Monroe, Ga., cannot conduct such elections, as it has since 1966, because the at-large majority system never received federal approval to ensure it does not diminish minority voting power.

The court’s unsigned decision said federal approval, in fact, was supplied when the Justice Department signed off on a 1968 Georgia law that encompassed Monroe’s adoption of the majority system.

Justices David H. Souter and Stephen G. Breyer dissented, contending that the federal government’s 1968 action should not be read as condoning the 1966 election change in Monroe.

Georgia and all its counties and cities are required under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to get approval from the Justice Department or a federal court in Washington before making any election changes.

Monroe has about 9,700 residents, and about 40 percent of them are black. For over 30 years, the city has elected a mayor and city council members in at-large voting. Even when more than two candidates have run, majority votes have been required for victory.

Two black residents sued the city in 1976, contending that the majority-vote provision contained in a 1966 city charter lacked the required federal approval.

It was not until 1991 that the Justice Department lodged its objection and in 1994 filed a lawsuit in an effort to halt future use of the majority-vote system.

A three-judge federal court in Georgia ruled that the city could not continue using the majority-vote system because it never had won federal approval. But the effect of those rulings was postponed pending the Supreme Court’s consideration of the case.

Today’s decision allows use of the majority-vote system to continue.

The case is Monroe vs. U.S., 97-122.

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