||U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
|Office of the Assistant Attorney General
||Washington, DC 20530
| ||October 4, 2002|
Mr. Gregory B. Grimes
Pointe Coupee Parish School District
Post Office Drawer 579
New Roads, Louisiana 70760-0579
Ronald E. Weber, Ph. D.
President, Campaign & Opinion
Research Analysts, Inc.
116 East Cornerview Road
Gonzales, Louisiana 70737
Dear Mr. Grimes and Dr. Weber:
This refers to the 2002 redistricting plan and the
postponement of the October 5, 2002, primary election for the
Pointe Coupee Parish School District in Pointe Coupee Parish,
Louisiana, submitted to the Attorney General pursuant to Section
5 of the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 1973c. We received your
response to our July 7, 2002, request for additional information
on August 5, 2002; supplemental information was received through
September 12, 2002. We received your submission of the
postponement of the primary election on September 23, 2002.
With regard to the postponement of the primary election, the
Attorney General does not interpose any objection. However, we
note that Section 5 expressly provides that the failure of the
Attorney General to object does not bar subsequent litigation to
enjoin the enforcement of the change. See the Procedures for the
Administration of Section 5 (28 C.F.R. 51.41). When the
procedures for the conducting the postponed election, including
the new date, are finalized and adopted, these procedures, and
any other changes affecting voting will require Section 5 review.
See 28 C.F.R. 51.15.
With regard to the 2002 redistricting plan, we have
considered carefully the information you have provided, as well
as census data, comments from interested parties, and other
information, including the school district's previous
submissions. As discussed further below, I cannot conclude that
the school district's burden to demonstrate that the plan does
not result in a discriminatory effect under Section 5 has been
sustained in this instance. Therefore, on behalf of the Attorney
General, I must object to the 2002 redistricting plan for the
The 2000 Census indicates that the Pointe Coupee Parish
School District has a total population of 22,763, of whom 8,572
(37.7%) are black. The school district is governed by an eight-member
board, elected from single-member districts to concurrent
four-year terms. According to the 2000 Census, there are three
districts under the benchmark plan, Districts A, C, and D, in
which black persons are a majority of the voting age population:
in District A it is 50.0 percent; in District C it is 72.0
percent, and in District D it is 75.3 percent. In contrast, the
proposed 2002 redistricting plan contains only two such
districts, Districts C and D. Application of the 2000 Census to
the proposed plan reveals that the black percentage of the voting
age population in District A falls to 47.4 percent.
Our analysis of elections held in the school district
indicates that black voters in District A as well as in Districts
C and D have been electing candidates of choice under the
benchmark plan on the basis of strong, cohesive black support. A
review of school board elections in District A during the 1990s
shows that a black candidate of choice was elected in 1990, lost
the 1994 runoff election by 23 votes, and then again prevailed in
the 1998 primary election by 25 votes. The school board's own
analysis of these elections shows extremely high polarization in
these elections: 93.7 to 95.7 percent of the blacks who turned
out voted for the preferred black candidate. Our statistical
analysis also shows that white voters provide only minimal
support to candidates supported by the minority community.
In the face of this analysis, the school board has argued
that proposed District A, which reduces the proportion of
minority voting age residents by 2.6 percentage points, will
remain a district in which minority voters will retain the
ability to elect candidates of their choice. The board points to
the results of the 1995 and 1999 gubernatorial races involving a
black candidate as relevant to determining the performance of
elections in new District A. However, these elections are not as
probative as the endogenous elections discussed above. Moreover,
while the minority-preferred candidate did appear to attract a
small amount of white crossover in 1995, the results once again
show an overall pattern of severe racial bloc voting with white
voters giving only minimal support to the candidate supported by
the minority community.
Given the slim margins of victory and defeat experienced by
the minority candidate in District A school board elections and
the prevalence of racially polarized voting, there is substantial
doubt that minority voters would retain the ability to elect
their candidate of choice in District A under the proposed plan.
Our review of the school district's benchmark and proposed
plans suggests that the significant reduction in the black voting
age population in District A in the proposed plan, and the likely
resulting retrogressive effect was neither inevitable nor
required by any constitutional or legal imperative. The board
claims that the only change that could be made to District A,
which was underpopulated, was to add Precinct 5 which lies
immediately to its south. While it is true that Precinct 5 lies
directly to the south of District A, it was not necessary to add
the entire precinct in order to bring the plan into population
equality. The board split other precincts into new precincts in
order to make the changes it wished to make in other areas of the
district, and could have done so with Precinct 5, thereby,
avoiding the retrogression.
Under the Voting Rights Act, a jurisdiction seeking to
implement a proposed change affecting voting, such as a
redistricting plan, must establish that, in comparison with the
status quo, the change does not "lead to a retrogression" in the
position of minority voters with respect to the "effective
exercise of the electoral franchise." See Beer v.
United States, 425 U.S. 130, 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, preclearence must be denied.
Georgia v. Ashcroft, 195 F. Supp. 2d 25 (D.D.C. 2002).
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). Finally, the submitting
authority has the burden of demonstrating that the proposed
change has neither the prohibited purpose nor effect. Id. at
328; see also Procedures for the Administration of Section 5 (28
In light of the consideration discussed above, I cannot
conclude that your burden of showing that a submitted change does
not have a discriminatory effect has been sustained in this
instance. Therefore, on behalf of the Attorney General, I must
object to the submitted redistricting plan. 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 2002 redistricting plan
continues to be legally unenforceable. Clark v. Roemer, 500 U.S.
646 (1991); 28 C.F.R. 51.10.
If you have any questions, you may call Ms. Judybeth Greene
(202-616-2350), an attorney in the Voting Section. Refer to File
No. 2002-2717 in any response to this letter so that your
correspondence will be channeled properly.
Ralph F. Boyd, Jr.
Assistant Attorney General