City of Richmond, Virginia v. United States 8212 201

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation45 L.Ed.2d 245,422 U.S. 358,95 S.Ct. 2296
Docket NumberNo. 74,74
PartiesCITY OF RICHMOND, VIRGINIA, Appellant, v. UNITED STATES et al. —201
Decision Date24 June 1975

In 1969 a Virginia court approved annexation by the city of Richmond, effective January 1, 1970, of an adjacent area in Chesterfield County, which reduced the proportion of Negroes in Richmond from 52% to 42%. The preannexation nine-man city council, which was elected at large, had three members who were endorsed by a Negro civic organization. In a postannexation at-large election in 1970, three of the nine members elected were also endorsed by that organization. Following this Court's holding in Perkins v. Matthews, 400 U.S. 378, 91 S.Ct. 431, 27 L.Ed.2d 476, that § 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (Act) reaches the extension of a city's boundaries through annexation, the city of Richmond unsuccessfully sought the Attorney General's approval of the Chesterfield County annexation. Meanwhile respondent Holt brought an action in federal court in Virginia challenging the annexation on constitutional grounds, and the District Court issued a decision, Holt v. City of Richmond, 334 F.Supp. 228 (Holt I), holding that the annexation had an illegal racial purpose, and ordered a new election. The Court of Appeals reversed. In the interim, Holt had brought another suit (Hotl II) in the District Court seeking to have the annexation invalidated under § 5 of the Act for lack of the approval required by the Act. As the result of the Holt II suit, which was stayed pending the outcome of the instant litigation, further city council elections have been enjoined and the 1970 council has remained in office. Having received no response from the Attorney General to a renewed approval request, the city brought this suit in the District Court for the District of Columbia, seeking approval of the annexation and relying on the Court of Appeals' decision in Holt I. Shortly thereafter, the District Court decided City of Petersburg v. United States, 354 F.Supp. 1021, aff'd, 410 U.S. 962, 93 S.Ct. 1441, 35 L.Ed.2d 698, invalidating another Virginia annexation plan where at-large council elections were the rule before and after annexation but indicating that approval could be obtained if 'modifications calculated to neutralize . . .

any adverse effect upon the political participation of black voters are adopted, i.e., that the plaintiff shift from an at-large to a ward system of electing its city councilmen.' Richmond thereafter developed and the Attorney General approved a plan for nine wards, four with substantial black majorities, four with substantial white majorities, and the ninth with a 59% white, 41% black division. Following apposition by intervenors, the plan was referred to a Special Master, who concluded that the city had not met its burden of proving that the annexation's purpose was not to dilute the black vote, and that the ward plan did not cure the racially discriminatory purpose. Additionally, he concluded that the annexation's diluting effect had not been dissipated to the greatest extent possible, that no acceptable offsetting economic or administrative benefits had been shown, and that deannexation was the only acceptable remedy for the § 5 violations. Except for the deannexation recommendation, the District Court accepted the Special Master's findings and conclusions. The District Court concluded that '(i)f the proportion of blacks in the new citizenry from the annexed area is appreciably less than the proportion of blacks living within the city's old boundaries, and particularly if there is a history of racial bloc voting in the city, the voting power of black citizens as a class is diluted and thus abridged.' The matter of the remedy to be fashioned was left for resolution in the stillpending Holt II. Held:

1. An annexation reducing the relative political strength of the minority race in the enlarged city as compared with what it was before the annexation does not violate § 5 of the Act as long as the postannexation system fairly recognizes, as it does in this case, the minority's political potential. Pp. 367-372.

(a) Although Perkins v. Matthews, supra, held that boundary changes by annexation have a sufficient potential for racial voting discrimination to require § 5 approval procedures, this does not mean that every annexation effecting a percentage reduction in the Negro population is prohibited by § 5. Though annexation of an area with a white majority, combined with at-large councilmanic elections and racial voting create or enhance the power of the white majority to exclude Negroes totally from the city council, that consequence can be satisfactorily obviated if at-large elections are replaced by a ward system of choosing councilmen, affording Negroes representation reasonably equivalent to their political strength in the enlarged community. Though the black community, if there is racial bloc voting, will have fewer council-

men, a different city council and an enlarged city are involved in the annexation. Negroes, moreover, will not be underrepresented. Pp. 368-371.

(b) The plan here under review does not undervalue the postannexation black voting strength or have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote within the meaning of § 5. Pp. 371-372.

2. Since § 5 forbids voting changes made for the purpose of denying the vote for racial reasons, further proceedings are necessary to update and reassess the evidence bearing upon the issue whether the city has sound, nondiscriminatory economic and administrative reasons for retaining the annexed area, it not being clear that the Special Master and the District Court adequately considered the evidence in deciding whether there are now justifiable reasons for the annexation that took place on January 1, 1970. Pp. 372-379.

376 F.Supp. 1344, vacated and remanded.

Lawrence G. Wallace, Washington, D.C., for appellee United States in support of the appellant.

Charles S. Rhyne, Washington, D.C., for appellant.

Armand Derfner, Washington, D.C., for appellees Crusade for Voters of Richmond and others.

W. H. C. Venable, Richmond, Va., for appellees Holt and others.

Mr. Justice WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

Under § 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 79 Stat. 439, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 1973c,1 a State or subdivision thereof subject to the Act may not enforce any

change in 'any voting qualification or prerequisite to voting' unless such change has either been approved by the Attorney General or that officer has failed to act within 60 days after submission to him, or unless in a suit brought by such State or subdivision the United States District Court for the District of Columbia has issued its declaratory judgment that such 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 . . ..' Perkins v. Matthews, 400 U.S. 379, 91 S.Ct. 431, 27 L.Ed.2d 476 (1971), held that § 5 reaches the extension of a city's boundaries through the process of annexation. Here, the city of Richmond annexed land formerly in Chesterfield County, and the issue is whether the city in its declaratory judgment action brought in the District Court for the District of Columbia has carried its burden of proof of demonstrating that the annexation had neither the purpose nor the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote of the Richmond Negro community on account of its race or color.


The controlling Virginia statutes2 permit cities to annex only after obtaining a favorable judgment from a specially constituted three-judge annexation court. In 1962, the city sought judicial approval of two annexation ordinances, one seeking to annex approximately 150 square miles of Henrico County and the other approximately 51 square miles of Chesterfield County. The Henrico case, which was protracted, proceeded first. In 1965, the annexation court authorized the annexation of 16 square miles of Henrico County; but because of a $55 million financial obligation which, as it turned out, annexation would entail, the city council determined

that the annexation was not in the city's best interest. The Henrico case was accordingly dismissed.

The city then proceeded with the Chesterfield case. In May 1969, a compromise line was approved by the city and Chesterfield County and incorporated in a decree of July 12, 1969,3 which awarded the city approximately 23 square miles of land adjacent to the city in Chesterfield County. The preannexation population of the city as of 1970 was 202,359, of which 104,207 or 52% were black citizens. The annexation of the city was therefore 249,621, of whom 1,557 were black and 45,705 were nonblack. The postannexation population of the city was therefore 249,621 of which 105,764 or 42% were Negroes. The annexation became effective on January 1, 1970, and the city has exercised jurisdiction over the area since that time.4

Before and immediately after annexation, the city had a nine-man council, which was elected at large. In 1968, three candidates endorsed by the Crusade for Voters of Richmond, a black civic organization, were elected to the council. In the postannexation, at-large election in 1970, three of the nine members elected had also received the endorsement of the Crusade.

On January 14, 1971, a divided Court in Perkins v. Matthews, supra, held that § 5 of the Voting Rights Act applied to city annexations. On January 28, 1971, the city of Richmond sought the Attorney General's approval of the Chesterfield annexation. On May 7, 1971, after requesting and receiving additional materials from the city, the Attorney General declined to approve the

voting change, which he deemed the annexation to represent, saying that the annexation substantially increased the proportion of whites and decreased the proportion of blacks in the city and that the annexation 'inevitably tends to dilute the voting...

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