||U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
|Office of the Assistant Attorney General
||Washington, DC 20530
| ||October 21, 2003|
Bruce D. Jones, Jr., Esq.
P.O. Box 690
Eastville, Virginia 23347-0690
Dear Mr. Jones:
This refers to the August 20, 2003, redistricting plan and
the realignment of voting precincts for Northampton County,
Virginia, submitted to the Attorney General, pursuant to Section
5 of the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 1973c. We received your
submission on August 22, 2003.
We have considered carefully the information you have
provided, as well as census data, comments from interested
persons, and other information, including the county's previous
submissions. As discussed further below, I cannot conclude that
the county 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 the redistricting plan.
According to the 2000 Census, Northampton County has a
population of 13,093, of whom 43.1 percent are black, and 3.5
percent are Hispanic. From 1990 to 2000, the county's total
population remained virtually unchanged, while the black
percentage of the total population decreased slightly, from 46.2
percent to 43.1 percent.
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). In addition, the jurisdiction must
establish that the change was not adopted with an intent to
retrogress. Reno v. Bossier Parish School Board, 528 U.S. 320,
Our examination of Northampton's plan shows that it will
lead to a prohibited retrogression in the position of minorities
with respect to their effective exercise of the electoral
franchise by causing a net loss of one district in which the
minority community would have the ability to elect its candidate
The benchmark plan contains two black majority districts in
which black voters have been able to elect candidates of choice,
Districts 3 and 6. The proposed plan has only one such district,
District 6, and reduces the black voting age population in
District 3 from 53.3% to 48.2%, thereby eliminating the ability
of black voters to elect their candidates of choice.
When coupled with an analysis of election returns and other
factors, we have concluded that minority voting strength has been
unnecessarily reduced in Northampton County. Since retrogression
is assessed on a county-wide basis, Northampton may remedy this
impermissible retrogression either by restoring District 3 to a
district where black voters can elect a candidate of choice or by
creating a new viable majority minority district elsewhere in the
Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the submitting
authority has the burden of showing that a submitted change such
as Northampton's redistricting plan has neither a discriminatory
purpose nor a discriminatory effect. 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. On behalf of the Attorney General, I
must object to the 2003 redistricting plan for the Board of
Supervisors of Northampton County.
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.
The Attorney General will make no determination regarding
the submitted realignment of voting precincts because it is
dependent upon the objected-to redistricting plan. Beyond the
specific discussion above, however, in all other respects, we
find that the County has satisfied the burden of proof required
by Section 5.
If you have any questions, you should call Mr. Robert P.
Lowell (202-514-3539), an attorney in the Voting Section.
J. Michael Wiggins
Acting Assistant Attorney General
Civil Rights Division