||U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
|Office of the Assistant Attorney General
||Washington, DC 20530
| ||April 29, 2002|
Mr. William D. Sleeper
Mr. Fred M. Ingram
Chairperson, Board of Supervisors
P.O. Box 426
Chatham, Virginia 24531
Dear Mr. Sleeper and Mr. Ingram:
This refers to the 2001 redistricting plans for the board of
supervisors and school board in Pittsylvania County, Virginia,
submitted to the Attorney General pursuant to Section 5 of the
Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 1973c. We received your responses
to our September 14, 2001, request for additional information
through March 12, 2002. We have considered carefully the
information you have provided, as well as census data, comments
and information from other interested parties, and other
information, including the county's previous submissions. Based
on our analysis of the information available to us, I am
compelled to object to the submitted redistricting plans on
behalf of the Attorney General.
The 2000 Census indicates that Pittsylvania County has a
population of 61,745, of whom 23.7 percent are black. The
county's board of supervisors consists of seven members elected
from single-member districts to serve four-year, concurrent
terms. The county school board districts are coterminous with
the county board of supervisor districts.
According to census data, under the redistricting plan
currently in effect, the benchmark plan, there is one district,
the Bannister District, in which black persons are a majority of
the population. That district has a total black population of
51.3 percent and a black voting age population of 50.2 percent.
Since 1991 black voters have had the ability to elect their
candidate of choice in this district and, in fact, have elected a
black person as their candidate of choice. The county is
proposing a plan, which will reduce the black population in the
district below 50 percent, and will also reduce the voting
strength of black voters.
While the reduction in black population in the Banister
District is relatively small, a variety of factors preclude the
county from establishing, as it must, that the adoption of this
plan is free from either discriminatory effect or purpose.
First, the impact of this reduction is retrogressive. Our
analysis of county elections shows that the level of racial
polarization is such that any reduction whatsoever would call
into question the continued ability of black voters to elect
their candidate of choice. Thus, based on the extreme level of
polarized voting in the county, dropping the percentage of the
Banister District below 50 percent black is very likely to
extinguish the ability that black voters have had throughout the
1990s to elect their candidate of choice.
A proposed change has a discriminatory effect when it will
"lead to a retrogression in the position of racial minorities
with respect to their effective exercise of the electoral
franchise." Beer v. United States, 425 U.S. 125, 141 (1976).
If the proposed plan materially reduces the ability of minority
voters to elect candidates of their choice to a level less than
what they enjoyed under the benchmark plan, preclearance must be
denied. State of Georgia v. Ashcroft, C.A. No. 2001-2111 (D.D.C.
Apr. 5, 2002), slip op. at 117-18. In Texas v. United States,
the court held that "preclearance must be denied under the
'effects' prong of Section 5 if a new system places minority
voters in a weaker position than the existing system." 866
F.Supp. 20, 27 (D.D.C. 1994).
Equally important to our conclusion that an objection is
warranted in this instance is the existence of alternative plans
that were not only non-retrogressive, but, indeed, are
ameliorative in that they increase the voting strength of
minority voters in the Banister District. This is a factor which
the Department has recognized as important to our analysis of
retrogression. Guidance Concerning Redistricting and
Retrogression under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965,
42 U.S.C. 1973c, 66 Fed. Reg 5411 (January 18, 2001).
With respect to the county's ability to demonstrate that the
plan was adopted without a prohibited purpose, the starting point
of our analysis is Village of Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan
Housing Development Corp., 429 U.S. 252, 266 (1977). Under
Arlington Heights, the Supreme Court identified the analytical
structure for determining whether racially discriminatory intent
exists. This approach requires an inquiry into 1) the impact of
the decision; 2) the historical background of the decision,
particularly if it reveals a series of decisions undertaken with
discriminatory intent; 3) the sequence of events leading up to
the decision; and 4) whether the challenged decision departs,
either procedurally or substantively, from the normal practice;
and contemporaneous statements and viewpoints held by the
decision-makers. Id. at 266-68.
Several factors establish that the county falls short of
demonstrating the lack of retrogressive purpose. Chief among
these are (1) the board procedures that prevented the black
community from being heard or presenting ameliorative proposals;
(2) the knowledge that the county had about the existence of non-retrogressive
and ameliorative alternatives; and (3) the pretextual reasons given by the
county for their decision to adopt the plan rather than a non-retrogressive alternative.
Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the submitting
authority has the burden of showing that a submitted change has
neither a discriminatory purpose nor a discriminatory effect.
Georgia v. United States, 411 U.S. 526 (1973);
Reno v. Bossier Parish School Board, 528 U.S. 320 (2000);
see also the Procedures for the Administration of Section 5 (28 C.F.R. 51.52).
In light of the considerations discussed above, I cannot conclude that
your burden has been sustained in this instance. Therefore, on
behalf of the Attorney General, I must object to the submitted
We note that under Section 5 you have the right to seek a
declaratory judgment from the United States District Court for
the District of Columbia that the proposed changes neither have
the purpose nor will have the effect of denying or abridging the
right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a
language minority group. See 28 C.F.R. 51.44. In addition,
you may request that the Attorney General reconsider the objection.
See 28 C.F.R. 51.45. However, until the objection is withdrawn
or a judgment from the District of Columbia Court is obtained,
the changes continue to be legally unenforceable. Clark v.
Roemer, 500 U.S. 646 (1991); 28 C.F.R. 51.10.
The Attorney General will make no determination regarding
the submitted realignment of voting precincts, and four polling
place changes because they are dependent upon the redistricting
To enable us to meet our responsibility to enforce the
Voting Rights Act, please inform us of the action Pittsylvania
County plans to take concerning this matter. If you have any
questions, you should call Ms. Maureen Riordan (202-353-2087), an
attorney in the Voting Section. Refer to File Nos. 2001-2026 and
2001-2501 in any response to this letter so that your
correspondence will be channeled properly.
Ralph F. Boyd, Jr.
Assistant Attorney General
Civil Rights Division