||U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
|Office of the Assistant Attorney General
||Washington, DC 20530
| ||October 12, 2001|
Francis I. Cantwell, Esq.
Regan, Cantwell and Stent
P.O. Box 1001
Charleston, South Carolina 29402
Dear Ms. Cantwell:
This refers to the 2001 redistricting plan for the City of
Charleston in Berkeley and Charleston Counties, South Carolina,
submitted to the Attorney General pursuant to Section 5 of the
Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 1973c. We received your most recent
responses to our August 3, 2001, request for additional
information on August 7, 8, 13, and 15, 2001.
We have carefully considered the information you have
provided, as well as information in our files, Census data, and
information and comments from other interested persons.
According to the 2000 Census, black persons represent 34.0
percent of the city's total population and 30.1 percent of its
voting age population.
The Charleston City Council consists of a mayor elected at
large and 12 councilmembers elected from single-member districts.
According to the 2000 Census, six districts are majority black in
total population, ranging from 56.0 to 70.6 percent. Five of
these districts are also majority black in voting age population.
The one exception is District 2, which has a 48.1 percent black
voting age population.
Upon its implementation, the proposed redistricting plan
would decrease the number of majority-minority districts to five,
a result which our analysis of demographic changes in Charleston
indicates is unavoidable and necessary to comply with the
constitutional requirement of one person-one vote.
However, it appears that no constitutional or legal
imperative required that the area comprising existing District 2
be combined with District 4 in a revised District 4. Our
concerns regarding the proposed combination of these districts
stems from the rapid population growth projected for Daniel
Island, which is located in proposed District 4. According to
information the city has provided, significant residential
development in this area is already under way. The city
estimates that the total number of building permits over the next
five years in the Berkeley County portion of the city is 1,131.
Using the 2.75 persons per household figure recommended by the
city to compute the population projections for the Berkeley
County portion, the future additional total population would be
3,110. As of July 1, 2001, the Berkeley County Voter Registrar
recorded the City of Charleston portion of Cainhoy Precinct as
having a total of 567 registered voters, of whom only 8 (1.4%)
Further, as you have conceded, it is likely that the
dwellings on Daniel Island (primarily townhouses and single-family homes)
will have mostly white residents in the future
considering that the lowest priced townhouses are expected to
cost approximately $160,000.
The city further estimates that 206 housing units in the
Cainhoy area may cost less than $100,000, and possibly 40 percent
of an anticipated 300-unit apartment complex would have reduced
rents and be affordable for minorities. Our information is that
while not all the prices of homes in the Cainhoy area (northeast
of Daniel Island, and included in proposed District 4) have been
finalized many of the designated low-income housing units in
Cainhoy will not in fact be affordable for minorities in the
Further, while proposed District 4 may continue to be a
district in which minority voters have an equal opportunity to
elect a candidate of their choice in the next council election,
"Section 5 looks not only to the present effects of changes but
to their future effects as well." Reno v. Bossier Parish School
Board, 528 U.S. 320, 340 (2000), citing City of Pleasant Grove v.
United States, 479 U.S. 462, 471 (1987). The available
information on demographic changes and the continued presence of
racial bloc voting in city elections, indicates that in a matter
of only a few years, proposed District 4 will no longer be a
district in which minority voters will be able to elect a
candidate of their choice.
Future retrogression in minority voting strength in District
4 is neither required nor inevitable. Our analysis indicates
that future retrogression in District 4 could be minimized by
adjusting the district's boundaries. One such slightly altered
plan discussed in our August 13, 2001, meeting in Washington
would place Daniel Island in a majority white district and, in
exchange, a residential area that is already well established
could be placed in District 4. Such a plan could maintain
minority voting strength in District 4 at its current level for a
significant period of time. The city officials stated that they
considered such a plan but did not choose it because it conflicts
with some of the city's redistricting goals, such as
"neighborhood cohesiveness and maintaining constituent
consistency." These reasons for not pursuing such an alternative
plan are not persuasive since the existing plan already separates
neighborhoods (downtown and on Daniel Island) and divides the
portion of the city in Berkeley County between three city council
districts that are each mainly on a separate land body.
We believe that a slightly altered plan would not be in
conflict with the city's redistricting goals as they have been
presented to us in your June 1, 2001, submission letter or as
they are reflected in the city's existing redistricting plan.
However, if the city believes that such an altered plan conflicts
with the city's redistricting goals, we note that "compliance
with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act may require the
jurisdiction to depart from strict adherence to certain of its
redistricting criteria. For example, criteria which require the
jurisdiction to make the least change to existing district
boundaries, follow county, city or precinct boundaries, protect
incumbents, preserve partisan balance, or in some cases require a
certain level of compactness of district boundaries may need to
give way to some degree to avoid retrogression." See Guidance
Concerning Redistricting and Retrogression Under Section 5 of the
Voting Rights Act, 66 Fed. Reg. 5412 (Jan. 18, 2001) (copy
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); 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 2001 redistricting plan.
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); 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 2001
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, 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 plan continues to be legally unenforceable. Clark
v. Roemer, 500 U.S. 646 (1991); 28 C.F.R. 51.10.
To enable us to meet our responsibility to enforce the
Voting Rights Act, please inform us of the action the City of
Charleston plans to take concerning this matter. If you have any
questions, you should call George Schneider (202-307-3153),
Special Section 5 Counsel in the Voting Section.
R. Alex Acosta
Acting Assistant Attorney General
Civil Rights Division