City of Richmond v. United States,
422 U.S. 358 (1975)

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U.S. Supreme Court

City of Richmond v. United States, 422 U.S. 358 (1975)

City of Richmond v. United States

No. 74-201

Argued April 23, 1975

Decided June 24, 1975

422 U.S. 358


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 pre-annexation nine-man city council, which was elected at large, had three members who were endorsed by a Negro civic organization. In a post-annexation 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. 379, 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 (Holt 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, 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

Page 422 U. S. 359

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 opposition 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 still-pending Holt II.


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 post-annexation 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 councilmen,

Page 422 U. S. 360

a different city council and an enlarged city are involved in the annexation. Negroes, moreover, will not be underrepresented. Pp. 422 U. S. 368-371.

(b) The plan here under review does not undervalue the post-annexation black voting strength or have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote within the meaning of § 5. Pp. 422 U. S. 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. 422 U. S. 372-379.

376 F.Supp. 1344, vacated and remanded.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, BLACKMUN, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which DOUGLAS and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 422 U. S. 379. POWELL, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Page 422 U. S. 361

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