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SYMM v. UNITED STATES ET AL.

decided: January 15, 1979.

SYMM, TAX ASSESSOR-COLLECTOR OF WALLER COUNTY, TEXAS
v.
UNITED STATES ET AL.



Reported below: 445 F.Supp. 1245.

[ 439 U.S. Page 1105]

Affirmed on appeal from D.C. S. D. Tex. MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN would note probable jurisdiction. MR. JUSTICE POWELL would dismiss appeal for want of a properly presented federal question.

MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE joins, dissenting.

Today the Court summarily affirms the judgment of a three-judge District Court enjoining appellant Symm, the Tax Assessor-Collector and ex officio voting registrar of Waller County, Tex., from using a certain questionnaire designed to aid Symm in determining whether persons registering to vote in Waller County are bona fide residents. Because I believe the three-judge District Court mistakenly exercised jurisdiction over Symm, I dissent.

 Waller County, a small rural county west of Houston, has a population of approximately 15,000, a slight majority of which is Negro. Prairie View A & M University is a state-supported, predominately black university located in Waller County. Appellant Symm is responsible for registering voters in the county. Persons personally known to Symm or his deputies as county residents, as well as persons who are listed on the tax rolls as owning property in Waller County, are routinely registered upon filling out the state registration form. Those who fall within neither of these categories are required to complete a residency questionnaire, which asks whether the applicant is a college student and, if so, inquires into the student's home address, property ownership, employment status, future plans, and so forth.*fn1

[ 439 U.S. Page 1106]

     On October 14, 1976, the Attorney General of the United States filed this action against Symm, Waller County, the State of Texas, and its Secretary of State and Attorney General, alleging that use of the questionnaire denied Prairie View students the right to vote in violation of 42 U. S. C. §§ 1971 (a), 1971 (c), 1973, 1973j (d), 1973bb, and the Fourteenth, Fifteenth, and Twenty-sixth Amendments. Pursuant to 42 U. S. C. § 1973bb (a)(2),*fn2 the United States moved to convene a three-judge District Court. The request for a three-judge court was predicated on the United States' claim for injunctive relief to remedy alleged violations of the Twenty-sixth Amendment. The motion was granted, and a

[ 439 U.S. Page 1107]

     three-judge District Court was convened. The District Court found that Symm's registration practices violated the Twenty-sixth Amendment and permanently enjoined him from, among other things, using the questionnaire. Symm appeals from that judgment.

The effect of an injunction against allegedly discriminatory voting practices in one small county in Texas is of no earthshaking importance, and the District Court may have been justified in concluding that the appellant registrar violated rights guaranteed to Prairie View students under the Twenty-sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution. If the case were here, therefore, on a petition for certiorari and fell within our discretionary jurisdiction, I would have no hesitation in voting to deny certiorari.

But this case is here on direct appeal from the decision of a three-judge District Court. And since we are obligated to decide the merits of cases which Congress allows a party to bring here by appeal, regardless of their importance, I think we are bound to examine on our own motion the jurisdiction of the federal court from which the appeal comes. See Liberty Mutual Ins. Co. v. Wetzel, 424 U.S. 737, 740 (1976).

Section 1937bb directs the Attorney General "to institute, in the name of the United States, such actions against States or political subdivisions, including actions for injunctive relief, as he may determine to be necessary to implement the twenty-sixth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States." 42 U. S. C. § 1973bb (a)(1) (emphasis added). Suits brought under the statute "shall be heard and determined by a court of three judges . . . ." § 1973bb (a)(2). The section unambiguously limits the Attorney General's authority to bringing actions against States and political subdivisions. Although the United States brought this suit against the State of Texas and Waller County as well as named individual officials, the District Court's injunction runs only against Symm personally. Indeed, the District Court

[ 439 U.S. Page 1108]

     specifically refused to grant relief "with respect to . . . the State of ...


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