Supreme Court Ends Racial Gerrymandering by Department of Justice
The Center for Individual Rights successfully challenged the DOJ’s use of the Voting Rights Act to racially gerrymander voting districts in a Louisiana school district.
Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, certain jurisdictions (primarily in the south) must obtain the federal Justice Department’s pre-clearance before redrawing their voting districts. In order to gain clearance, those jurisdictions have to show that they have no intent to discriminate. Generally, so long as a new plan does not “retrogress” and at least maintains the existing number of minority seats or districts, the “intent” requirement is met.
In 1993, the Bossier Parish school board submitted a new, race-neutral plan to redraw voting districts as required by the 1990 census. The lines were based upon non-racial considerations. In fact, the plan was identical to one earlier approved by the Department of Justice for local political elections, under which black politicians were elected.
However, the NAACP proposed an alternative plan which would have created two black majority districts by relying nearly exclusively on racial considerations. The school board declined to implement the NAACP proposal since it would have involved splitting 46 existing precincts and violated Louisiana state law.
Based on this refusal, the Justice Department denied pre-clearance of the school board plan, characterizing it instead as an attempt to dilute minority voting strength. The DOJ, instead, sought to impose an additional pre-clearance condition, which would require that the new plan would have no “discriminatory” result. The only way to pass this test would be to gerrymander districts in order to maximize minority voting strength, even if that required . Anything less would be considered “discriminatory” voter “dilution.”
A three judge district court heard Bossier’s appeal, and determined that its voting plan did not have a discriminatory purpose or retrogressive result and Bossier was thus entitled to pre-clearance for its race neutral plan under the Voting Rights Act.
But the DOJ persisted in opposing the plan, drawing out the matter over 7 years and two trips to the U.S. Supreme Court, during which time the majority-white districts elected black school board members to three out of a total twelve school board seats.
Finally on Jan. 24, 2000, Justice Scalia declared that the DOJ may no longer use the pre-clearance provision of the Voting Rights Act to force local jurisdictions to artificially maximize the number of minority districts.
Washington, D.C. – In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court today sharply limited the ability of the Department of Justice to racially gerrymander local voting districts. In the case of Reno v. Bossier Parish School…