WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that Alabama Gov. Bob Riley did not need advance clearance to fill a county commission vacancy with a fellow Republican appointee.
Before 1985, state law stipulated that county commissioner vacancies were to be filled by gubernatorial appointment and that states covered by the act must get federal approval before changing election procedures.
The state Legislature passed a law in 1985 requiring midterm vacancies to be filled by special election. Despite a voter’s unsuccessful attempt to enjoin the special election, an election took place, and the winner took office.
Shortly thereafter, the state Supreme Court struck down the 1985 law on grounds that it violated the state constitution.
The Legislature passed a law in 2004 reinstating gubernatorial appointment unless a local law authorized a state election. A group of voters and state legislators sued the governor, claiming the 2004 act revived the 1985 act.
The trial court agreed and ordered Riley to call a special election. But before he could do that, the state high court held that the 2004 act did not resurrect the 1985 act.
Riley then filled the vacancy by appointment.
At issue was whether he needed to obtain fresh “preclearance” to reinstate the procedures that were in place before the enactment of the invalidated 1985 law.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ruled that because the 1985 law never went into effect, “the state’s reversion to its prior practice did not rank as a ‘change’ requiring preclearance.”
Justices Stevens and Souter dissented.