COOPER, GOVERNOR OF NORTH CAROLINA, et al. v. HARRIS et al.

On Appeal From The United States District Court For The Middle District Of North Carolina

No. 15-1262. Argued December 5, 2016--Decided May 22, 2017

The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prevents a State, in the absence of “sufficient justification,” from “separating its citizens into different voting districts on the basis of race.” Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Bd. of Elections, 580 U. S. ___, ___. When a voter sues state officials for drawing such race-based lines, this Court’s decisions call for a two-step analysis. First, the plaintiff must prove that “race was the predominant factor motivating the legislature’s decision to place a significant number of voters within or without a particular district.” Miller v. Johnson, 515 U. S. 900. Second, if racial considerations did predominate, the State must prove that its race-based sorting of voters serves a “compelling interest” and is “narrowly tailored” to that end, Bethune-Hill, 580 U. S., at ___. This Court has long assumed that one compelling interest is compliance with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA or Act). When a State invokes the VRA to justify race-based districting, it must show (to meet the “narrow tailoring” requirement) that it had “good reasons” for concluding that the statute required its action. Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama, 575 U. S. ___, ___. A district court’s factual findings made in the course of this two-step inquiry are reviewed only for clear error. See Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 52(a)(6); Easley v. Cromartie, 532 U. S. 234 (Cromartie II).

This case concerns North Carolina’s redrawing of two congressional districts, District 1 and District 12, after the 2010 census. Prior to that redistricting, neither district had a majority black voting-age population (BVAP), but both consistently elected the candidates preferred by most African-American voters. The new map significantly altered both District 1 and District 12. The State needed to add almost 100,000 people to District 1 to comply with the one-person-one-vote principle, and it chose to take most of those people from heavily black areas of Durham—increasing the district’s BVAP from 48.6% to 52.7%. The State also reconfigured District 12, increasing its BVAP from 43.8% to 50.7%. Registered voters in those districts (here called “the plaintiffs”) filed suit against North Carolina officials (collectively, “the State” or “North Carolina”), complaining of impermissible racial gerrymanders. A three-judge District Court held both districts unconstitutional. It found that racial considerations predominated in the drawing of District 1’s lines and rejected the State’s claim that this action was justified by the VRA. As for District 12, the court again found that race predominated, and it explained that the State made no attempt to justify its attention to race in designing that district.

Held:

1. North Carolina’s victory in a similar state-court lawsuit does not dictate the disposition of this case or alter the applicable standard of review. Before this case was filed, a state trial court rejected a claim by several civil rights groups that Districts 1 and 12 were unlawful racial gerrymanders. The North Carolina Supreme Court affirmed that decision under the state-court equivalent of clear error review. The State claims that the plaintiffs are members of the same organizations that brought the earlier case, and thus precluded from raising the same questions anew. But the State never satisfied the District Court that the alleged affiliation really existed. And because the District Court’s factual finding was reasonable, it defeats North Carolina’s attempt to argue for claim or issue preclusion here.

The State’s backup argument about the proper standard of review also falls short. The rule that a trial court’s factual findings are reviewed only for clear error contains no exception for findings that diverge from those made in another court. See Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 52(a)(6). Although the state court’s decision is certainly relevant, the premise of clear error review is that there are often “two permissible views of the evidence.” Anderson v. Bessemer City, 470 U. S. 564. Even assuming that the state court’s findings capture one such view, the only question here is whether the District Court’s assessment represents another. Pp. 7–10.

2. The District Court did not err in concluding that race furnished the predominant rationale for District 1’s redesign and that the State’s interest in complying with the VRA could not justify that consideration of race. Pp. 10–18.

(a) The record shows that the State purposefully established a racial target for the district and that the target “had a direct and significant impact” on the district’s configuration, Alabama, 575 U. S., at ___, subordinating other districting criteria. Faced with this body of evidence, the District Court did not clearly err in finding that race predominated in drawing District 1; indeed, it could hardly have concluded anything but. Pp. 10–12.

(b) North Carolina’s use of race as the predominant factor in designing District 1 does not withstand strict scrutiny. The State argues that it had good reasons to believe that it had to draw a majority-minority district to avoid liability for vote dilution under 2 of the VRA. Thornburg v. Gingles, 478 U. S. 30, identifies three threshold conditions for proving such a vote-dilution claim: (1) A “minority group” must be “sufficiently large and geographically compact to constitute a majority” in some reasonably configured legislative district, id., at 50; (2) the minority group must be “politically cohesive,” id., at 51; and (3) a district’s white majority must “vote[ ] sufficiently as a bloc” to usually “defeat the minority’s preferred candidate,” ibid. If a State has good reason to think that all three of these conditions are met, then so too it has good reason to believe that 2 requires drawing a majority-minority district. But if not, then not.

Here, electoral history provided no evidence that a 2 plaintiff could demonstrate the third Gingles prerequisite. For nearly 20 years before the new plan’s adoption, African-Americans made up less than a majority of District 1’s voters, but their preferred candidates scored consistent victories. District 1 thus functioned as a “crossover” district, in which members of the majority help a “large enough” minority to elect its candidate of choice. Bartlett v. Strickland, 556 U. S. 1 (plurality opinion). So experience gave the State no reason to think that the VRA required it to ramp up District 1’s BVAP.

The State counters that because it needed to substantially increase District 1’s population, the question facing the state mapmakers was not whether the then-existing District 1 violated 2, but whether the future District 1 would do so if drawn without regard to race. But that reasoning, taken alone, cannot justify the State’s race-based redesign of the district. Most important, the State points to no meaningful legislative inquiry into the key issue it identifies: whether a new, enlarged District 1, created without a focus on race, could lead to 2 liability. To have a strong basis to conclude that 2 demands race-based measures to augment a district’s BVAP, the State must evaluate whether a plaintiff could establish the Gingles preconditions in a new district created without those measures. Nothing in the legislative record here fits that description. And that is no accident: The redistricters believed that this Court’s decision in Strickland mandated a 50%-plus BVAP in District 1. They apparently reasoned that if, as Strickland held, 2 does not require crossover districts (for groups insufficiently large under Gingles), then 2 also cannot be satisfied by crossover districts (for groups meeting Gingles’ size condition). But, as this Court’s 2 jurisprudence makes clear, unless each of the three Gingles prerequisites is established, “there neither has been a wrong nor can be a remedy.” Growe v. Emison, 507 U. S. 25. North Carolina’s belief that it was compelled to redraw District 1 (a successful crossover district) as a majority-minority district thus rested on a pure error of law. Accordingly, the Court upholds the District Court’s conclusion that the State’s use of race as the predominant factor in designing District 1 does not withstand strict scrutiny. Pp. 12–18.

3. The District Court also did not clearly err by finding that race predominated in the redrawing of District 12. Pp. 18–34.

(a) The district’s legality turns solely on which of two possible reasons predominantly explains its reconfiguration. The plaintiffs contended at trial that North Carolina intentionally increased District 12’s BVAP in the name of ensuring preclearance under 5 of the VRA. According to the State, by contrast, the mapmakers moved voters in and out of the district as part of a “strictly” political gerrymander, without regard to race. After hearing evidence supporting both parties’ accounts, the District Court accepted the plaintiffs’.

Getting to the bottom of a dispute like this one poses special challenges for a trial court, which must make “ ‘a sensitive inquiry’ ” into all “ ‘circumstantial and direct evidence of intent’ ” to assess whether the plaintiffs have proved that race, not politics, drove a district’s lines. Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U. S. 541 (Cromartie I). This Court’s job is different—and generally easier. It affirms a trial court’s factual finding as to racial predominance so long as the finding is “plausible”; it reverses only when “left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.” Anderson, 470 U. S., at 573–574. In assessing a finding’s plausibility, moreover, the Court gives singular deference to a trial court’s judgments about the credibility of witnesses. See Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 52(a)(6). Applying those principles here, the evidence at trial—including live witness testimony subject to credibility determinations—adequately supports the District Court’s conclusion that race, not politics, accounted for District 12’s reconfiguration. And contrary to the State’s view, the court had no call to dismiss this challenge just because the plaintiffs did not proffer an alternative design for District 12. Pp. 18–21.

(b) By slimming the district and adding a couple of knobs to its snakelike body, North Carolina added 35,000 African-Americans and subtracted 50,000 whites, turning District 12 into a majority-minority district. State Senator Robert Rucho and State Representative David Lewis—the chairs of the two committees responsible for preparing the revamped plan—publicly stated that racial considerations lay behind District 12’s augmented BVAP. Specifically, Rucho and Lewis explained that because part of Guilford County, a jurisdiction covered by 5 of the VRA, lay in the district, they had increased the district’s BVAP to ensure preclearance of the plan. Dr. Thomas Hofeller, their hired mapmaker, confirmed that intent. The State’s preclearance submission to the Justice Department indicated a similar determination to concentrate black voters in District 12. And, in testimony that the District Court found credible, Congressman Mel Watt testified that Rucho disclosed a majority-minority target to him in 2011. Hofeller testified that he had drawn District 12’s lines based on political data, and that he checked the racial data only after he drew a politics-based line between adjacent areas in Guilford County. But the District Court disbelieved Hofeller’s asserted indifference to the new district’s racial composition, pointing to his contrary deposition testimony and a significant contradiction in his trial testimony. Finally, an expert report lent circumstantial support to the plaintiffs’ case, showing that, regardless of party, a black voter in the region was three to four times more likely than a white voter to cast a ballot within District 12’s borders.

The District Court’s assessment that all this evidence proved racial predominance clears the bar of clear error review. Maybe this Court would have evaluated the testimony differently had it presided over the trial; or then again, maybe it would not have. Either way, the Court is far from having a “definite and firm conviction” that the District Court made a mistake in concluding from the record before it that racial considerations predominated in District 12’s design. Pp. 21–28.

(c) Finally, North Carolina argues that when race and politics are competing explanations of a district’s lines, plaintiffs must introduce an alternative map that achieves a State’s asserted political goals while improving racial balance. Such a map can serve as key evidence in a race-versus-politics dispute, but it is hardly the only means to disprove a State’s contention that politics drove a district’s lines. In this case, the plaintiffs’ introduction of mostly direct and some circumstantial evidence gave the District Court a sufficient basis, sans any map, to resolve the race-or-politics question. Although a plaintiff will sometimes need an alternative map, as a practical matter, to make his case, such a map is merely an evidentiary tool to show that an equal protection violation has occurred; neither its presence nor its absence can itself resolve a racial gerrymandering claim.

North Carolina claims that a passage of this Court’s opinion in Cromartie II makes an alternative map essential in cases like this one, but the reasoning of Cromartie II belies that reading. The Court’s opinion nowhere attempts to explicate or justify the categorical rule that the State claims to find there, and the entire thrust of the opinion runs counter to an inflexible counter-map requirement. Rightly understood, the passage on which the State relies had a different and narrower point: Given the weak evidence of a racial gerrymander offered in Cromartie II, only maps that would actually show what the plaintiffs’ had not could carry the day. This case, in contrast, turned not on the possibility of creating more optimally constructed districts, but on direct evidence of the General Assembly’s intent in creating the actual District 12—including many hours of trial testimony subject to credibility determinations. That evidence, the District Court plausibly found, itself satisfied the plaintiffs’ burden of debunking North Carolina’s politics defense. Pp. 28–34.

159 F. Supp. 3d 600, affirmed.

Kagan, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor, JJ., joined. Thomas, J., filed a concurring opinion. Alito, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part, in which Roberts, C. J., and Kennedy, J., joined. Gorsuch, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.


WATER SPLASH, INC. v. MENON

Certiorari To The Court Of Appeals Of Texas, Fourteenth District

No. 16-254. Argued March 22, 2017--Decided May 22, 2017

Petitioner Water Splash sued respondent Menon, a former employee, in a Texas state court, alleging that she had begun working for a competitor while still employed by Water Splash. Because Menon resided in Canada, Water Splash obtained permission to effect service by mail. After Menon declined to answer or otherwise enter an appearance, the trial court issued a default judgment for Water Splash. That court subsequently denied Menon’s motion to set aside the judgment on the ground that she had not been properly served. On appeal, Menon argued that service by mail does not comport with the requirements of the Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents in Civil and Commercial Matters (Hague Service Convention), which seeks to simplify, standardize, and generally improve the process of serving documents abroad, specifying certain approved methods of service and preempting “inconsistent methods of service” wherever it applies, Volkswagenwerk Aktiengesellschaft v. Schlunk, 486 U. S. 694. The Texas Court of Appeals agreed with Menon, holding that the Convention prohibited service of process by mail. Article 10, the provision at issue, consists of Articles 10(b) and 10(c), which plainly address permissible methods of “service,” and Article 10(a), which provides that the Convention will not interfere with “the freedom to send judicial documents, by postal channels, directly to persons abroad,” but does not expressly refer to “service.”

Held: The Hague Service Convention does not prohibit service of process by mail. Pp. 4–12.

(a) This Court begins its analysis by looking to the treaty’s text and the context in which its words are used. See Schlunk, 486 U. S., at 699. The key word in Article 10(a)—“send”—is a broad term, and there is no apparent reason why it would exclude the transmission of documents for the purpose of service. The structure of the Convention strongly counsels against such an exclusion. The Convention’s preamble and Article 1 limit the scope of the Convention to service of documents abroad, and its full title includes the phrase “Service Abroad.” This Court has also held that the scope of the Convention is limited to service of documents. Id., at 701. It would thus be quite strange if Article 10(a)—apparently alone among the Convention’s provisions—concerned something other than service of documents. Indeed, such a reading would render Article 10(a) superfluous. Article 10’s function is to ensure that, generally, the Convention “shall not interfere” with the activities described in 10(a), 10(b), and 10(c). But since Article 1 already “eliminates [the] possibility” that the Convention would apply to any communications that “do not culminate in service,” id., at 701, in order for Article 10(a) to do any work, it must pertain to sending documents for the purposes of service. Menon’s attempt to avoid this superfluity problem by suggesting that Article 10(a) applies not to service of process but only to the service of “post-answer judicial documents” lacks any plausible textual footing in Article 10. If the drafters wished to limit Article 10(a) to a particular subset of documents, they could have said so—as they did, e.g., in Article 15, which refers to “a writ of summons or an equivalent document.” Instead, Article 10(a) uses the term “judicial documents”—the same term featured in 10(b) and 10(c). And the ordinary meaning of the word “send” is broad enough to cover the transmission of any judicial documents. Accordingly, the text and structure of the Convention indicate that Article 10(a) encompasses service by mail. Pp. 4–6.

(b) The main counterargument—that Article 10(a)’s phrase “send judicial documents” should mean something different than the phrase “effect service of judicial documents” in Article 10(b) and Article 10(c)—is unpersuasive. First, it must contend with the compelling structural considerations strongly suggesting that Article 10(a) pertains to service of documents. Second, reading the word “send” as a broad concept that includes, but is not limited to, service is probably more plausible than interpreting the word to exclude service, and it does not create the same superfluity problem. Third, the French version of the Convention, which is “equally authentic” to the English version, Schlunk, supra, at 699, uses the word “adresser,” which has consistently been understood to mean service or notice. At best, Menon’s argument creates an ambiguity as to Article 10(a)’s meaning. The Court thus turns to additional tools of treaty interpretation, which comfortably resolve any lingering ambiguity in Water Splash’s favor. Pp. 7–8.

(c) Three extratextual sources are especially helpful in ascertaining Article 10(a)’s meaning. First, the Convention’s drafting history strongly suggests that the drafters understood that service by postal channels was permissible. Second, in the half-century since the Convention was adopted, the Executive Branch has consistently maintained that the Hague Service Convention allows service by mail. Finally, other signatories to the Convention have consistently adopted Water Splash’s view. Pp. 8–12.

(d) The fact that Article 10(a) encompasses service by mail does not mean that it affirmatively authorizes such service. Rather, service by mail is permissible if the receiving state has not objected to service by mail and if such service is authorized under otherwise-applicable law. Because the Court of Appeals concluded that the Convention prohibited service by mail, it did not consider whether Texas law authorizes the methods of service used by Water Splash. That and any other remaining issues are left to be considered on remand to the extent they are properly preserved. P. 12.

472 S. W. 3d 28, vacated and remanded.

Alito, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all other Members joined, except Gorsuch, J., who took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.


TC HEARTLAND LLC v. KRAFT FOODS GROUP BRANDS LLC

Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The Federal Circuit

No. 16-341. Argued March 27, 2017--Decided May 22, 2017

The patent venue statute, 28 U. S. C. 1400(b), provides that “[a]ny civil action for patent infringement may be brought in the judicial district where the defendant resides, or where the defendant has committed acts of infringement and has a regular and established place of business.” In Fourco Glass Co. v. Transmirra Products Corp., 353 U. S. 222, this Court concluded that for purposes of 1400(b) a domestic corporation “resides” only in its State of incorporation, rejecting the argument that 1400(b) incorporates the broader definition of corporate “residence” contained in the general venue statute, 28 U. S. C. 1391(c). Congress has not amended 1400(b) since Fourco, but it has twice amended 1391, which now provides that, “[e]xcept as otherwise provided by law” and “[f]or all venue purposes,” a corporation “shall be deemed to reside, if a defendant, in any judicial district in which such defendant is subject to the court’s personal jurisdiction with respect to the civil action in question.” 1391(a), (c).

Respondent filed a patent infringement suit in the District Court for the District of Delaware against petitioner, a competitor that is organized under Indiana law and headquartered in Indiana but ships the allegedly infringing products into Delaware. Petitioner moved to transfer venue to a District Court in Indiana, claiming that venue was improper in Delaware. Citing Fourco, petitioner argued that it did not “resid[e]” in Delaware and had no “regular and established place of business” in Delaware under 1400(b). The District Court rejected these arguments. The Federal Circuit denied a petition for a writ of mandamus, concluding that 1391(c) supplies the definition of “resides” in 1400(b). The Federal Circuit reasoned that because petitioner resided in Delaware under 1391(c), it also resided there under 1400(b).

Held: As applied to domestic corporations, “reside[nce]” in 1400(b) refers only to the State of incorporation. The amendments to 1391 did not modify the meaning of 1400(b) as interpreted by Fourco. Pp. 3–10.

(a) The venue provision of the Judiciary Act of 1789 covered patent cases as well as other civil suits. Stonite Products Co. v. Melvin Lloyd Co., 315 U. S. 561. In 1897, Congress enacted a patent specific venue statute. This new statute (1400(b)’s predecessor) permitted suit in the district of which the defendant was an “inhabitant” or in which the defendant both maintained a “regular and established place of business” and committed an act of infringement. 29Stat. 695. A corporation at that time was understood to “inhabit” only the State of incorporation. This Court addressed the scope of 1400(b)’s predecessor in Stonite, concluding that it constituted “the exclusive provision controlling venue in patent infringement proceedings” and thus was not supplemented or modified by the general venue provisions. 315 U. S., at 563.

In 1948, Congress recodified the patent venue statute as 1400(b). That provision, which remains unaltered today, uses “resides” instead of “inhabit[s].” At the same time, Congress also enacted the general venue statute, 1391, which defined “residence” for corporate defendants. In Fourco, this Court reaffirmed Stonite’s holding, observing that Congress enacted 1400(b) as a standalone venue statute and that nothing in the 1948 recodification evidenced an intent to alter that status, even the fact that 1391(c) by “its terms” embraced “all actions,” 353 U. S., at 228. The Court also concluded that “resides” in the recodified version bore the same meaning as “inhabit[s]” in the pre-1948 version. See id., at 226.

This landscape remained effectively unchanged until 1988, when Congress amended the general venue statute, 1391(c). The revised provision stated that it applied “[f]or purposes of venue under this chapter.” In VE Holding Corp. v. Johnson Gas Appliance Co., 917 F. 2d 1574, 1578, the Federal Circuit held that, in light of this amendment, 1391(c) established the definition for all other venue statutes under the same “chapter,” including 1400(b). In 2011, Congress adopted the current version of 1391, which provides that its general definition applies “[f]or all venue purposes.” The Federal Circuit reaffirmed VE Holding in the case below. Pp. 3–7.

(b) In Fourco, this Court definitively and unambiguously held that the word “reside[nce]” in 1400(b), as applied to domestic corporations, refers only to the State of incorporation. Because Congress has not amended 1400(b) since Fourco, and neither party asks the Court to reconsider that decision, the only question here is whether Congress changed 1400(b)’s meaning when it amended 1391. When Congress intends to effect a change of that kind, it ordinarily provides a relatively clear indication of its intent in the amended provision’s text. No such indication appears in the current version of 1391.

Respondent points out that the current 1391(c) provides a default rule that, on its face, applies without exception “[f]or all venue purposes.” But the version at issue in Fourco similarly provided a default rule that applied “ ‘for venue purposes,’ ” 353 U. S., at 223, and those phrasings are not materially different in this context. The addition of the word “all” to the already comprehensive provision does not suggest that Congress intended the Court to reconsider its decision in Fourco. Any argument based on this language is even weaker now than it was when the Court rejected it in Fourco. Fourco held that 1400(b) retained a meaning distinct from the default definition contained in 1391(c), even though the latter, by its terms, included no exceptions. The current version of 1391 includes a saving clause, which expressly states that the provision does not apply when “otherwise provided by law,” thus making explicit the qualification that the Fourco Court found implicit in the statute. Finally, there is no indication that Congress in 2011 ratified the Federal Circuit’s decision in VE Holding. Pp. 7–10.

821 F. 3d 1338, reversed and remanded.

Thomas, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all other Members joined, except Gorsuch, J., who took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.