||U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
|Office of the Assistant Attorney General
||Washington, DC 20530
| ||October 6, 2003|
Mr. Carlos Notariano
Chairperson, Parish Council
P.O. Box 215
Amite, Louisiana 70422
Ronald E. Weber, Ph.D.
President, Campaign & Opinion Research Analysts
116 East Cornerview Road
Gonzales, Louisiana 70737
Dear Mr. Notariano and Dr. Weber:
I am writing in reference to Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana's
recent submission to the Attorney General, pursuant to Section 5
of the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 1973c, regarding (i) the
parish's 2003 redistricting plan; (ii) its creation,
consolidation, and realignment of voting precincts; and (iii) its
designation of polling places. After receiving your initial
submission on February 24, 2003, the Voting Section of the Civil
Rights Division sought additional information on April 23 to
complete the requisite analysis. The parish sent these requested
materials on August 7 and September 8.
The Civil Rights Division has considered carefully the
information you have provided, as well as census data, comments
from interested parties, and other information, including the
parish's previous submissions. As discussed further below, I
cannot conclude that the parish has sustained its burden under
Section 5 with regard to the 2003 redistricting plan.
Accordingly, on behalf of the Attorney General, I must object to
According to the 2000 Census, Tangipahoa Parish has a total
population of 100,588, of whom 28,489 (28.3%) are black. The
census further indicates that there are 72,699 persons of voting
age, of whom 18,195 (25.0%) are black. As of January 3, 2003,
there were 59,722 registered voters in the parish, of whom 14,860
(24.9%) were black. Since the 1990 Census, the black share of
the parish's total population has remained virtually unchanged
from 28.6 percent in 1990, to 28.3 percent in 2000. In addition,
the black population in District 3 has steadily increased as a
percentage of the total population over the past two decades.
We have carefully examined the circumstances surrounding the
proposed reduction in the black population in benchmark District
3 from 62.4 to 54.1 percent, with a corresponding drop in the
black voting age population percentage from 58.3 to 49.9 percent.
The parish contends that the proposed plan is not retrogressive
because the changes do not alter the level of minority voting
strength when compared to the benchmark. Respectfully, our
analysis precludes us from reaching a similar conclusion.
In the benchmark plan, blacks represent a majority of the
total, voting age, and registered voter populations in Districts
3 and 7. Under the proposed plan, however, only District 7
retains a majority of black persons in the voting age population
and among registered voters; in District 3, the black majority in
each of these categories is eliminated. Analysis of electoral
information in the parish indicates that the substantial
reduction in the black population in District 3 will result in a
plan that does not afford black voters the same ability to
exercise the electoral franchise effectively that they have under
the benchmark plan.
The parish suggests any retrogression that may have occurred
was unavoidable because no alternatives existed to remedy the
malapportionment in District 3 without decreasing the black
population percentage. Yet the 2000 Census reports that the
black population in Tangipahoa Parish has not declined
significantly since 1990, but instead has remained steady at just
over 28 percent. Moreover, as part of our analysis, we devised
an illustrative plan to determine whether the retrogression was,
in fact, unavoidable. See Georgia v. Ashcroft, 123 U.S. 2498,
2502 (2003); Guidance Concerning Redistricting and Retrogression
Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, 66 Fed. Reg. 5412, at
5413, (Jan. 18, 2001). In so doing, we were able to create a 10-district
plan not significantly different from the benchmark plan that met the parish's
traditional redistricting criteria and in which the black percentage of the
voting age population in District 3 is maintained at or above benchmark levels.
(We note, of course, that the purpose of the illustrative plan is only to
establish the feasibility of a non-retrogressive plan.)
Our review of the benchmark and proposed plans indicates
that the reduction in the black population percentage in District
3 was neither inevitable nor required by any constitutional or
legal imperative. Alternative approaches available to the parish
could have avoided reducing black voting strength in District 3
below the benchmark plan levels, while adhering substantially to
the parish's redistricting criteria as described in your
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.
See Georgia v. United States, 411 U.S. 526 (1973);
see also 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 parish's
2003 redistricting plan.
I would 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, 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 submitted change continues 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 voting precinct and polling place changes because
they are directly related to the objected-to redistricting plan.
To enable us to meet our responsibility to enforce the
Voting Rights Act, please inform us of the action Tangipahoa
Parish 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