City of Pleasant Grove v. United States
Annotate this Case
479 U.S. 462 (1987)
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U.S. Supreme Court
City of Pleasant Grove v. United States, 479 U.S. 462 (1987)
City of Pleasant Grove v. United States
Argued December 10, 1986
Decided January 21, 1987
479 U.S. 462
Appellant, an Alabama city that has a long history of racial discrimination and that until recently had an all-white population, is covered by § 6 of the Voting Rights Act of 1966 (Act), and accordingly must seek preclearance before instituting any change in a standard, practice, or procedure affecting voting. Appellant sought approval by the Attorney General for the annexation of two parcels of land, one vacant (hereinafter called the Western Addition) and the other (Glasgow Addition) added at the request of its inhabitants, an extended white family who wished their children to attend appellant's then all-white school system. The Attorney General objected to the annexations, finding with respect to the Western Addition that appellant's refusal to annex an adjacent black neighborhood (Highlands) was indicative of an intent to annex only white areas. Pursuant to § 5 of the Act, appellant then filed this declaratory action in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, which denied relief, finding that the Western Addition's location and appellant's plans for relatively expensive housing there indicated that it was likely to be developed for use by white persons only. The court further found that appellant failed to carry its burden of proving that the annexations at issue did not have the purpose of abridging or denying the right to vote on account of race.
1. Fundamental principles of the Act, governing this case, are that an annexation of inhabited land constitutes a change in voting practice or procedure subject to preclearance under § 5, and even the annexation of vacant land on which residential development is anticipated must be precleared before those moving into the area may vote in the annexing jurisdiction. Moreover, Congress intended that a voting practice not be precleared unless both discriminatory purpose and effect are absent, and the burden of proving absence of discriminatory purpose and effect is on the covered jurisdiction. Pp. 479 U. S. 467-469.
2. There is no merit to appellant's contention that the District Court erred in concluding that appellant had not carried its burden of showing that the annexations were untainted by a racially discriminatory purpose. In arriving at its decision, the District Court relied on a variety of evidence, principally its finding that the refusal to annex the Highlands
while annexing other areas was racially motivated, rather than, as appellant asserted, based upon economic considerations. The court's findings, both as to the purpose of not annexing the Highlands and with respect to the weight of the evidence regarding the purpose of the two annexations at issue, are findings of fact that must be accepted unless clearly erroneous, and appellant has not established that they are clearly erroneous. Appellant's argument that, even if its decision not to annex the Highlands was racially motivated, such decision was not a change respecting voting, and hence was not subject to § 5, is correct, but not dispositive. The failure to annex black areas while simultaneously annexing nonblack areas is highly significant in demonstrating that appellant's annexations were purposefully designed to perpetuate it as an enlarged enclave of white voters. Moreover, the contention that, since appellant had no black voters at the time of the annexations, they could not have caused an impermissible effect on black voting, and thus it cannot be concluded that appellant had a discriminatory purpose, is based on the incorrect assumption that an impermissible purpose under § 5 can relate only to present circumstances. Section 5 looks not only to the present effects of changes, but to their future effects as well, and, likewise, an impermissible purpose under § 5 may relate to anticipated as well as present circumstances. Pp. 479 U. S. 469-472.
623 F.Supp. 782, affirmed.
WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, STEVENS, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and O'CONNOR, J., joined, post, 479 U. S. 472.