Reno v. Bossier Parish School Bd.,
520 U.S. 471 (1997)

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No. 95-1455. Argued December 9, 1996-Decided May 12, 1997*

Appellee Bossier Parish 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 pre cleared 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 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (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.


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 com-

*Together with No. 95-1508, Price et al. v. Bossier Parish School Board et al., also on appeal from the same court.



bat different evils and, accordingly, to impose very different duties upon the States. See Holder v. Hall, 512 U. S. 874, 883 (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. 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 (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. 476-485.

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. 486-490.

(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, which sets forth a framework for examining discriminatory purpose. pp.486-489.

(b) This Court is unable to determine whether the District Court deemed irrelevant all evidence of the dilutive impact of the redistricting

Full Text of Opinion

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