Reno v. Bossier Parish School Board

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation137 L.Ed.2d 730,520 U.S. 471,117 S.Ct. 1491
Docket Number1455
PartiesJanet RENO, Attorney General, Appellant, v. BOSSIER PARISH SCHOOL BOARD et al. George PRICE, et al., Appellants, v. TISBOSSIER PARISH SCHOOL BOARD et al
Decision Date12 May 1997
*
Syllabus**

Appellee Bossier Parrish School Board (Board) is subject to the preclearance requirements of §5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (Act) and must therefore obtain the approval of either the United States Attorney General or the United States District Court for the District of Columbia before implementing any changes to a voting "qualification, prerequisite, standard, practice, or procedure.'' Based on the 1990 census, the Board redrew its 12 single-member districts, adopting the redistricting plan that the Attorney General had recently precleared for use in elections of the parish's primary governing body (the Jury plan). In doing so, the Board rejected a plan proposed by the NAACP, which would have created two majority-black districts. The Attorney General objected to preclearance, finding that the NAACP plan, which had not been available when the Jury plan was originally approved, demonstrated that black residents were sufficiently numerous and geographically compact to constitute a majority in two districts; that, compared with this alternative, the Board's plan unnecessarily limited the opportunity for minority voters to elect their candidates of choice and thereby diluted their voting strength in violation of §2 of the Act; and that the Attorney General must withhold preclearance where necessary to prevent a clear §2 violation. The Board then filed this action with the District Court, and appellant Price and others intervened as defendants. A three-judge panel granted the preclearance request, rejecting appellants' contention that a voting change's failure to satisfy §2 constituted an independent reason to deny preclearance under §5 and their related argument that a court must still consider evidence of a §2 violation as evidence of discriminatory purpose under §5.

Held:

1.Preclearance under §5 may not be denied solely on the basis that a covered jurisdiction's new voting "standard, practice, or procedure'' violates §2. This Court has consistently understood §5 and §2 to combat different evils and, accordingly, to impose very different duties upon the States. See Holder v. Hall, 512 U.S. 874, 883, 114 S.Ct. 2581, 2587, 129 L.Ed.2d 687 (plurality opinion). Section 5 freezes election procedures in a covered jurisdiction until that jurisdiction proves that its proposed changes do not have the purpose, and will not have the effect, of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race. See Beer v. United States, 425 U.S. 130, 140, 96 S.Ct. 1357, 1363, 47 L.Ed.2d 629. It is designed to combat only those effects that are retrogressive. Retrogression, by definition, requires a comparison of a jurisdiction's new voting plan with its existing plan, see Holder, supra, at 883, 114 S.Ct., at 2587 (plurality opinion), and necessarily implies that the jurisdiction's existing plan is the benchmark against which the "effect'' of voting changes is measured. Section 2, on the other hand, applies in all jurisdictions and uses as its benchmark for comparison in vote dilution claims a hypothetical, undiluted plan. Making compliance with §5 contingent upon compliance with §2, as appellants urge, would, for all intents and purposes, replace the standards for §5 with those for §2, thus contradicting more than 20 years of precedent interpreting §5. See, e.g., Beer, supra. Appellants' contentions that their reading of §5 is supported by the Beer decision, by the Attorney General's regulations, and by public policy considerations are rejected. Pp. ____-____.

2.Evidence showing that a jurisdiction's redistricting plan dilutes minorities' voting power may be relevant to establish a jurisdiction's "intent to retrogress'' under §5, so there is no need to decide today whether such evidence is relevant to establish other types of discriminatory intent or whether §5's purpose inquiry ever extends beyond the search for retrogressive intent. Because this Court cannot say with confidence that the District Court considered the evidence proffered to show that the Board's reapportionment plan was dilutive, this aspect of that court's holding must be vacated. Pp. ____-____.

(a) Section 2 evidence may be "relevant'' within the meaning of Federal Rule of Evidence 401, for the fact that a plan has a dilutive impact makes it "more probable'' that the jurisdiction adopting that plan acted with an intent to retrogress than "it would be without the evidence.'' This does not, of course, mean that evidence of a plan's dilutive impact is dispositive of the §5 purpose inquiry. Indeed, if it were, §2 would be effectively incorporated into §5, a result this Court finds unsatisfactory. In conducting their inquiry into a jurisdiction's motivation in enacting voting changes, courts should look for guidance to Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Development Corp., 429 U.S. 252, 97 S.Ct. 555, 50 L.Ed.2d 450, which sets forth a framework for examining discriminatory purpose. Pp. ____-____.

(b) This Court is unable to determine whether the District Court deemed irrelevant all evidence of the dilutive impact of the redistricting plan adopted by the Board. While some language in its opinion is consistent with today's holding that the existence of less dilutive options was at least relevant to the purpose inquiry, the District Court also appears to have endorsed the notion that dilutive impact evidence is irrelevant even to an inquiry into retrogressive intent. The District Court will have the opportunity to apply the Arlington Heights test on remand as well as to address appellants' additional arguments that it erred in refusing to consider evidence that the Board was in violation of an ongoing injunction to remedy any remaining vestiges of a dual school system. Pp. ____-____.

907 F.Supp. 434, vacated and remanded.

O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and SCALIA, KENNEDY, and THOMAS, JJ., joined in full, and in which GINSBURG and BREYER, JJ., joined except insofar as Part III is inconsistent with the views expressed in the concurrence of BREYER, J. THOMAS, J., filed a concurring opinion. BREYER, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, in which GINSBURG, J., joined. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion dissenting in part and concurring in part, in which SOUTER, J., joined.

Deval L. Patrick, Boston, MA, for appellant in No. 94-1455.

John W. Borkowski, Washington, DC, for appellants in No. 95-1508.

Michael A. Carvin, Washington, DC, for appellees.

Justice O'CONNOR delivered the opinion of the Court.

Today we clarify the relationship between §2 and §5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 79 Stat. 437, 439, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§1973, 1973c. Specifically, we decide two questions: (i) whether preclearance must be denied under §5 whenever a covered jurisdiction's new voting "standard, practice, or procedure'' violates §2; and (ii) whether evidence that a new "standard, practice, or procedure'' has a dilutive impact is always irrelevant to the inquiry whether the covered jurisdiction acted with "the purpose . . . of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color'' under §5. We answer both in the negative.

I

Appellee Bossier Parish School Board (Board) is a jurisdiction subject to the preclearance requirements of §5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 42 U.S.C. §1973c, and must therefore obtain the approval of either the United States Attorney General or the United States District Court for the District of Columbia before implementing any changes to a voting "qualification, prerequisite, standard, practice, or procedure.'' The Board has 12 members who are elected from single-member districts by majority vote to serve 4-year terms. When the 1990 census revealed wide population disparities among its districts, see App. to Juris. Statement 93a (Stipulations of Fact and Law ¶82), the Board decided to redraw the districts to equalize the population distribution.

During this process, the Board considered two redistricting plans. It considered, and initially rejected, the redistricting plan that had been recently adopted by the Bossier Parish Police Jury, the parish's primary governing body (the Jury plan), to govern its own elections. Just months before, the Attorney General had precleared the Jury plan, which also contained 12 districts. Id., at 88a (Stipulations, ¶68). None of the 12 districts in the Board's existing plan or in the Jury plan contained a majority of black residents. Id., at 93a (Stipulations, ¶82) (under 1990 population statistics in the Board's existing districts, the three districts with highest black concentrations contain 46.63%, 43.79%, and 30.13% black residents, respectively); id., at 85a (Stipulations, ¶59) (population statistics for Jury plan, with none of the plan's 12 districts containing a black majority). Because the Board's adoption of the Jury plan would have maintained the status quo regarding the number of black-majority districts, the parties stipulated that the Jury plan was not "retrogressive.'' Id., at 141a (Stipulations, ¶252) ("The . . . plan is not retrogressive to minority voting strength compared to the existing benchmark plan . . . ''). Appellant George Price, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, presented the Board with a second option-a plan that created two districts each containing not only a majority of black residents, but a majority of voting-age black residents. Id., at 98a (Stipulations, ¶98). Over vocal opposition from local residents, black and white alike, the Board voted to adopt the Jury plan as its own, reasoning that the Jury plan would almost certainly be precleared again and that the NAACP plan would...

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