528 U.S. 320 (2000), 98-405, Reno v. Bossier Parish School Bd.

Docket Nº:Case No. 98-405.
Citation:528 U.S. 320, 120 S.Ct. 866, 145 L.Ed.2d 845, 68 U.S.L.W. 4086
Case Date:January 24, 2000
Court:United States Supreme Court

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528 U.S. 320 (2000)

120 S.Ct. 866, 145 L.Ed.2d 845, 68 U.S.L.W. 4086




Case No. 98-405.

United States Supreme Court

January 24, 2000[*]

Argued April 26, 1999, Reargued October 6, 1999



Bossier Parish, Louisiana, a jurisdiction covered by § 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, is thereby prohibited from enacting any change in a "voting qualification[,] prerequisite[,] standard, practice, or procedure" without first obtaining preclearance from either the Attorney General or the District Court. When, following the 1990 census, the Bossier Parish School Board (Board) submitted a proposed redistricting plan to the Attorney General, she denied preclearance. The Board then filed this preclearance action in the District Court. Section 5 authorizes preclearance of a proposed voting change that "does not have the purpose and will not have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color." Appellants conceded that the Board's plan did not have a prohibited "effect" under § 5, since it was not "retrogressive," i.e., did not worsen the position of minority voters, see Beer v. United States, 425 U.S. 130, but claimed that it violated § 5 because it was enacted for a discriminatory "purpose." The District Court granted preclearance. On appeal, this Court disagreed with the District Court's proposition that all evidence of a dilutive (but nonretrogressive) effect forbidden by § 2 was irrelevant to whether the Board enacted the plan with a retrogressive purpose forbidden by § 5. Reno v. Bossier Parish School Bd., 520 U.S. 471, 486-487 (Bossier Parish I). This Court vacated and remanded for further proceedings as to the Board's purpose in adopting its plan, id., at 486, leaving for the District Court the question whether the § 5 purpose inquiry ever extends beyond the search for retrogressive intent, ibid. On remand, the District Court again granted preclearance. Concluding, inter alia, that there was no evidence of discriminatory but nonretrogressive purpose, the court left open the question whether § 5 prohibits preclearance of a plan enacted with such a purpose.

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1. The Court rejects the Board's contention that these cases are mooted by the fact that the 1992 plan will never again be used because the next scheduled election will occur in 2002, when the Board will have a new plan in place based upon data from the 2000 census. In at least one respect, the 1992 plan will have probable continuing effect: It will serve as the baseline against which appellee's next voting plan will be evaluated for preclearance purposes. Pp. 327-328.

2. In light of § 5's language and Beer 's holding, § 5 does not prohibit preclearance of a redistricting plan enacted with a discriminatory but nonretrogressive purpose. Pp. 328-341.

(a) In order to obtain preclearance, a covered jurisdiction must establish that the proposed change "does not have the purpose and will not have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color." The covered jurisdiction bears the burden of persuasion on both points. See, e.g., Bossier Parish I, supra, at 478. In Beer, the Court concluded that, in the context of a § 5 vote-dilution claim, the phrase "abridging the right to vote on account of race or color" limited the term "effect" to retrogressive effects. 425 U.S., at 141. Appellants' contention that in qualifying the term "purpose," the very same phrase does not impose a limitation to retrogression, but means discrimination more generally, is untenable. See BankAmerica Corp. v. United States, 462 U.S. 122, 129. Richmond v. United States, 422 U.S. 358, 378-379, distinguished. Appellants argue that subjecting both prongs to the same limitation produces a purpose prong with a trivial reach, covering only "incompetent retrogressors." If this were true—and if it were adequate to justify giving the very same words different meanings when qualifying "purpose" and "effect"—there would be instances in which this Court applied such a construction to the innumerable statutes barring conduct with a particular "purpose or effect," yet appellants are unable to cite a single case. Moreover, the purpose prong has value and effect even when it does not cover conduct additional to that of a so-called incompetent retrogressor: The Government need only refute a jurisdiction's prima facie showing that a proposed voting change does not have a retrogressive purpose, and need not counter the jurisdiction's evidence regarding actual retrogressive effect. Although virtually identical language in § 2(a) and the Fifteenth Amendment has been read to refer not only to retrogression, but to discrimination more generally, giving the language different meaning in § 5 is faithful to the different context in which the term "abridging" is used. Appellants' reading would exacerbate the "substantial" federalism costs that the preclearance procedure already exacts, Lopez v. Monterey County, 525 U.S. 266, 282, perhaps to the extent

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of raising concerns about § 5's constitutionality, see Miller v. Johnson, 515 U.S. 900, 926-927. The Court's resolution of this issue renders it unnecessary to address appellants' challenge to the District Court's factual conclusion that there was no evidence of discriminatory but nonretrogressive intent. Pp. 328-336.

(b) The Court rejects appellants' contention that, notwithstanding that Bossier Parish I explicitly "le[ft] open for another day" the question whether§ 5 extends to discriminatory but nonretrogressive intent, 520 U.S., at 486, two of this Court's prior decisions have already reached the conclusion that it does. Dictum in Beer, supra, at 141, and holding of Pleasant Grove v. United States, 479 U.S. 462, distinguished. Pp. 337-341.

7 F.Supp.2d 29, affirmed.

SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, Part II of which was unanimous, and Parts I, III, and IV of which were joined by REHNQUIST, C. J., and O'CONNOR, KENNEDY, and THOMAS, JJ. THOMAS, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 341. SOUTER, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which STEVENS, GINSBURG, and BREYER, JJ., joined, post, p. 341. Stevens, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which GINSBURG, J., joined, post, p. 373. BREYER, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 374.

Paul R. Q. Wolfson reargued the cause for appellant in No. 98-405. On the briefs on reargument was Solicitor General Waxman. With Mr. Wolfson on the briefs on the original argument were Mr. Waxman, Acting Assistant Attorney General Lee, Deputy Solicitor General Underwood, Mark L. Gross, and Louis E. Peraertz.

Patricia A. Brannan reargued the cause for appellants in No. 98-406. With her on the briefs were John W. Borkowski, Barbara R. Arnwine, Thomas J. Henderson, and Edward Still.

Michael A. Carvin reargued the cause for appellee in both cases. With him on the brief were David H. Thompson, Craig S. Lerner, and Michael E. Rosman.

JUSTICE SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court.

These cases present the question whether § 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 79 Stat. 439, as amended, 42 U.S.C.

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§ 1973c, prohibits preclearance of a redistricting plan enacted with a discriminatory but nonretrogressive purpose.


This is the second time the present cases are before us, and we thus recite the facts and procedural history only in brief. Like every other political subdivision of the State of Louisiana, Bossier Parish, because of its history of discriminatory voting practices, is a jurisdiction covered by § 5 of the Voting Rights Act. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 1973c, 1973b(a), (b); 30 Fed. Reg. 9897 (1965). It is therefore prohibited from enacting any change in a "voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure with respect to voting," without first obtaining either administrative preclearance from the Attorney General or judicial preclearance from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. 42 U.S.C. § 1973c.

Bossier Parish is governed by a 12-member Police Jury elected from single-member districts for 4-year terms. In the early 1990's, the Police Jury set out to redraw its electoral districts in order to account for demographic changes reflected in the decennial census. In 1991, it adopted a redistricting plan which, like the plan then in effect, contained no majority-black districts, although blacks made up approximately 20% of the parish's population. On May 28, 1991, the Police Jury submitted its new districting plan to the Attorney General; two months later, the Attorney General granted preclearance.

The Bossier Parish School Board (Board) is constituted in the same fashion as the Police Jury, and it too undertook to redraw its districts after the 1990 census. During the course of that redistricting, appellant-intervenor George Price, president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), proposed that the Board adopt a plan with majority-black districts. In the fall of 1992, amid some controversy, the

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Board rejected Price's suggestion and adopted the Police Jury's 1991 redistricting plan as its own.

On January 4, 1993, the Board submitted its redistricting plan to the Attorney General for preclearance. Although the Attorney General had precleared the identical plan when submitted by the Police Jury, she interposed a formal objection to the Board's plan, asserting that "new information"specifically, the NAACP plan proposed by appellant intervenor Pricedemonstrated that "black residents are sufficiently numerous and...

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