||U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
|Office of the Assistant Attorney General
||Washington, DC 20530
| ||June 4, 2004|
The Honorable Phillip A. Lemoine
P.O. Box 390
Ville Platte, Louisiana 70586
Glenn A. Koepp, Esq.
Chief Executive Officer
P.O. Box 80279
Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70898
Dear Mayor Lemoine and Mr. Koepp:
This refers to the 2003 redistricting plan for the City of
Ville Platte in Evangeline Parish, Louisiana, 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 February 9,
2004, request for additional information through May 7, 2004.
We have carefully considered the information you have
provided, as well as census data, comments and information from
other interested parties, and other information, including the
city's previous submissions. Under Section 5 of the Voting
Rights Act, the Attorney General must determine whether the
submitting authority has met its burden of showing that the
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. Georgia v. Ashcroft, 123 S.Ct. 2498 (2003); Procedures for
the Administration of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, 28
C.F.R. 51.52 (c). As discussed further below, I cannot conclude
that the city's burden under Section 5 has been sustained in this
instance. Therefore, on behalf of the Attorney General, I must
object to the 2003 redistricting plan for the city council.
According to the 2000 Census, the city has a total
population of 8,596 persons, of whom 4,864 (56.6%) are black. Of
the 5,945 persons of voting age, 2,867 (48.2%) are black. Since
1980, the city's black population percentage has increased both
consistently and considerably. In 1980, black persons
constituted less than a third of the city's population; now they
are over 56 percent. In 1980, the black voting age population
was barely over a quarter of the total; now it is almost half.
According to the city's 2004 voter registration data, black
persons constituted 51.3 percent of the city's eligible voters.
Our analysis reveals that the black population in District F
has increased significantly since the district's creation in 1997
and that this trend is likely to continue. The district's black
population level increased from 28.7 percent at the time the 1997
plan was adopted, which was based on 1990 Census data, to 55.1
percent in 2000. The most recent demographic information,
particularly registered voter data, indicates that black persons
currently appear to constitute a majority of the voting age
population in the district. The proposed 2003 redistricting plan
eliminates the black population majority by reducing it to 38.1
Our electoral analysis indicates that elections in the city,
including in District F, are marked by a pattern of racially
polarized voting. Under the benchmark plan, District F is a
district in which minority voters have attained the ability to
elect candidates of their choice because of the significant
increase in black voting strength in recent years. Further, the
evidence establishes that, in light of existing demographic
patterns and trends, this ability would even more clearly exist
in the future within the benchmark district or a district with a
similar configuration. The city proposes to drop the district's
black population percentage by 17 points. Under such a reduction
and within the context of the racially polarized elections that
occur in the city, black voters will have lost the electoral
ability they currently possess.
A voting change has a discriminatory effect if it will lead
to a retrogression in the position of members of a racial or
language minority group (i.e., will make members of such a group
worse off than they had been before the change with respect to
their effective exercise of the electoral franchise). Reno v.
Bossier Parish School Board, 528 U.S. 320, 340, 328 (2000);
Beer v. United States, 425 U.S. 130, 140-42 (1976).
The reduction in black voting strength under the proposed plan in District F makes
minority voters worse off than under the benchmark plan and
eliminates their ability to elect the candidate of their choice.
Moreover, "Section 5 looks not only to the present effects of
changes but to their future effects as well." Reno, supra, at
340, citing City of Pleasant Grove v. United States, 479 U.S.
462, 471 (1987). Under these facts and against this standard,
the city has not met its burden of establishing that the
significant reduction in the minority population in District F
does not result in the proposed plan effectuating a retrogression
of the minority voting strength in the city.
In addition, and perhaps more clearly, our analysis
indicates that the evidence precludes a determination that the
proposed plan was not adopted, at least in part, to effectuate
this proscribed effect.
The starting point of our analysis concerning whether the
plan was motivated by an intent to retrogress is Village of
Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Development Corp., 429
U.S. 252 (1977). There, 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; 4) whether the challenged decision
departs, either procedurally or substantively, from the normal
practice; and 5) contemporaneous statements and viewpoints held
by the decision-makers. Id. at 266-68.
Following the framework presented in that case, we turn
first to the city's past redistricting efforts, particularly
those in 1993 and 1995. In each instance the Attorney General
determined that the city failed to establish that, under an
analogous set of facts, those efforts were not motivated, at
least in part, by a discriminatory purpose.
Second, despite the existence under the benchmark plan of
four districts in which black persons were a majority, the city
sought a redistricting plan, "which would consist of three
majority-minority districts, and three majority districts."
Letter of April 2, 2004, at 1. The city has provided no evidence
to rebut the conclusion that use of such a criterion under these
circumstances was designed, at least in part, to retrogress
minority voting strength by eliminating the electoral ability of
black voters in District F. Garza and United States v.
County of Los Angeles, 918 F.2d 763, 778 n.1 (9th Cir. 1990), (Kozinski,
J., dissenting), cert. denied, 498 U.S. 1028 (1991).
Third, the precipitous drop in black voting strength in
District F was not driven by any constitutional or statistical
necessity. The district required, at the most, only minimal
adjustments. However, the city undertook wholesale changes,
swapping white neighborhoods for black neighborhoods, and moving
black population from District F into District B, a district
which was already 78.8 percent black.
The city claims that the reduction in District F was
necessary to retain the electoral ability of black voters in
District B. Contrary to the city's assertion, however, a plan
that retains benchmark levels of minority voting strength while
following most of the city's criteria, was possible. The city
reviewed, but gave no serious consideration to Plan 4, an
alternative plan that maintained District F at the benchmark
level and our analysis indicates that District B with 66.3
percent black population level unquestionably remains a viable
district for minority-preferred candidates. Thus, the
retrogression that results from the plan was avoidable. Georgia,
supra, at 2511.
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); 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 city's
2003 redistricting plan.
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 change neither has the
purpose nor will have the effect of denying or abridging the
right to vote on account of race or color. 28 C.F.R. 51.44. In
addition, you may request that the Attorney General reconsider
the objection. 28 C.F.R. 51.45. However, until the objection is
withdrawn or a judgment from the District of Columbia Court is
obtained, the submitted change continues to be legally
unenforceable. Clark v. Roemer, 500 U.S. 646 (1991); 28 C.F.R.
To enable us to meet our responsibility to enforce the
Voting Rights Act, please inform us of the action the City of
Ville Platte plans to take concerning this matter. If you have
any questions, you should call Mr. Robert Lowell (202-514-3539),
an attorney in the Voting Section.
R. Alexander Acosta
Assistant Attorney General
Civil Rights Division