Tuesday, April 10, 2018


Supreme Court Advocacy Clinic Files Brief in Voting Rights Case

On April 4, 2018, students from the Yale Supreme Court Advocacy Clinic filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Common Cause and the Voting Rights Institute.

The brief was filed in support of a challenge to Texas legislative districts that argued the map had been drawn to minimize the voting strength of racial minorities.

The Texas legislature originally enacted the challenged districts in 2011. After the district court invalidated those districts as discriminatory, the court in 2012 permitted use of some of the districts on an interim basis for that year’s election, expressly noting that its interim review had been limited and was subject to revision, according to the brief. In 2013, the Texas legislature re-enacted the same districts—those originally held to be discriminatory—without change. Texas now argues, in part, that adoption of the district court’s interim plan in 2012 effectively insulates the 2013 plan from further review.

“A court’s preliminary findings are just that: preliminary,” explained clinical student Brian McGrail ’19. “Our brief argues that Texas cannot evade the Voting Rights Act by purporting to rely on a court's preliminary map.”

The Supreme Court Advocacy Clinic, and the organizations it represents, recognized the stakes of this case and decided to get involved. Texas’s argument threatens to subject its residents—and, if Texas’s theory prevails, residents of other States—to discriminatory voting regimes.

“Given Texas’s history of racial discrimination in redistricting, this case highlights the importance of recognizing and eradicating increasingly sophisticated methods of racial discrimination,” said student Julia Hu ’18. “The districts at issue, in which Texas deliberately discriminated against minority voters, cannot stand.”

“If accepted, Texas’s theory would undermine the ability of courts to respond to voting rights challenges with preliminary injunctions,” added student Christine Smith ’19. “Such injunctions are necessary to balance plaintiffs’ rights with the state’s need to conduct regularly scheduled elections. Texas cannot leverage a court’s preliminary findings to shield its map from constitutional review.”

The Clinic’s brief confronts Texas’s arguments head on. First, the brief argues Texas is incorrect when it maintains that the district court validated the challenged districts, and insulated them from review, when it permitted their use in the 2012 interim plan. The brief points out that it is fundamental that courts use different standards when issuing preliminary or interim relief than they do when making a final determination on the merits; such a ruling is characterized by what courts have called “its for-the-time-beingness.” Second, the brief explains why the interim ruling also does not launder the Texas legislature’s discriminatory purpose out of the case. The Court has a duty to determine the Legislature’s actual intent, not just its stated motive, when it chose to re-enact districts that had been held to be the product of a discriminatory purpose, according to the clinic. All of the usual indicia of legislative intent—including the history, context, and prior judicial constructions of the legislative language—support the district court’s finding that the Texas Legislature adopted the 2013 plan with a discriminatory purpose, the brief argues.

The amici are represented by Charles Rothfeld, Michael Kimberly ’08, Andrew Pincus, and Paul Hughes ’08 of Mayer Brown LLP as well as visiting lecturer in law Eugene Fidell. The students working on the case include Brian McGrail ’19, Christine Smith ’19, Julia Hu ’18, and Danielle Feuer ’18. 

The Yale Supreme Court Advocacy Clinic provides clients with the highest quality pro bono representation before the Supreme Court of the United States. The Clinic maintains an active docket of cases at both the certiorari and merits stages.