||U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
|Office of the Assistant Attorney General
||Washington, DC 20530
| ||December 31, 2002|
Mr. Walter C. Lee
Superintendent, Parish School Board
201 Crosby Street
Mansfield, Louisiana 71052
Mr. B.D. Mitchell
President, Parish Police Jury
P.O. Box 898
Mansfield, Louisiana 71052
Dear Messrs. Lee and Mitchell:
This refers to the 2002 redistricting plan for the DeSoto
Parish School District; and the related voting precinct and
polling place changes for DeSoto Parish, Louisiana, submitted to
the Attorney General pursuant to Section 5 of the Voting Rights
Act, 42 U.S.C. 1973c. We received the school district's
responses to our August 23, 2002, request for additional
information on September 16 and November 1, 2002. Upon receipt
of the school district's completed response, we reopened the
With regard to the redistricting plan, we have considered
carefully the information you have provided, as well as census
data, comments and information from other interested parties, and
other information, including the district's previous submissions.
Based on our analysis of the information available to us, I am
compelled to object to the submitted redistricting plan on behalf
of the Attorney General.
The 2000 Census indicates that the district, which is
coterminous with DeSoto Parish, has a total population of 25,494,
of whom 10,724 (42.1%) are black persons. The total voting age
population of the parish is 18,264, of whom 7,146 (39.1%) are
black persons. The school board consists of 11 board members,
elected from single-member districts in non-partisan elections,
by majority vote, to four-year terms.
Under 2000 Census data, five of the eleven districts in the
current, or benchmark, plan have a total population that is
majority black and which, in fact, have been electing the
candidate of choice of black voters. In four of these five
districts under the proposed plan, black voters will continue to
have the ability to elect candidates of their choice. Our
analysis, however, shows that this is not true for the fifth
district, District 9. Under the benchmark plan, black voters in
that district have the ability to elect their candidates of
choice, and they will not have that same ability under the
Our analysis shows that elections in DeSoto Parish are
marked by a pattern of racially polarized voting. Moreover, we
analyzed several parish-wide elections to determine whether black
voters in District 9 have the present ability to elect candidates
of choice under the benchmark plan and whether they would
continue to have that ability under the proposed plan. We
determined that, while under the benchmark plan black voters did
indeed have the ability to elect a candidate of choice, under the
proposed plan they will not. Accordingly, the implementation of
the proposed plan will result in a retrogression in the minority
voters effective exercise of their electoral franchise.
This retrogression was avoidable. Our analysis of the
information submitted indicates that the reduction of the black
population percentage in District 9 was not required to comply
with the redistricting criteria used by the school district.
First, the district did not require any modification to comply
with constitutional requirements. Second, the school district's
own consultant presented an alternative plan, Plan 6, which
satisfied traditional redistricting criteria and maintained the
benchmark district's demographics.
A proposed change has a discriminatory effect when it will
"lead to a retrogression in the position of racial minorities
with respect to their effective exercise of the electoral
franchise." Beer v. United States, 425 U.S. 125, 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, preclearance must be
denied. State of 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).
With respect to the district's ability to demonstrate that
the plan was adopted without a prohibited purpose, the starting
point of our analysis is Village of Arlington Heights v.
Metropolitan Housing Development Corp., 429 U.S. 252, 266 (1977).
Under Arlington Heights, the Supreme Court identified the
analytical structure for determining whether racially
discriminatory intent exists. This approach requires an inquiry
into the following: 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
Here the retrogressive effect, as noted above, was easily
avoidable. The school board was not compelled to redraw the
district, and even if it wished to do so, it was presented with
an alternative that met all of its legitimate criteria while
maintaining the minority community's electoral ability in
District 9, an alternative that the board rejected. Most
revealing is the fact that the board has indicated that it sought
to devise a redistricting plan resulting in four districts where
black persons were a majority of the population, similar to the
result of the implementation of the benchmark plan in 1994. In
these circumstances, we cannot conclude that the district will be
able to sustain its burden, as it must, that the action in
question was not motivated by an intent to retrogress.
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); Reno v. Bossier
Parish School Board, 528 U.S. 320 (2000); 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 submitted
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 change continues to be legally unenforceable. Clark v.
Roemer, 500 U.S. 646 (1991); 28 C.F.R. 51.10.
Please note that the Attorney General will make no
determination regarding the submitted voting precinct and polling
place changes because those changes are dependent upon the
objected-to redistricting plan.
To enable us to meet our responsibility to enforce the
Voting Rights Act, please inform us of the action the DeSoto
Parish School District plans to take concerning this matter. If
you have any questions, you should call Ms. Maureen S. Riordan
(202-353-2087), an attorney in the Voting Section. Refer to File
No. 2002-2926 in any response to this letter so that your
correspondence will be channeled properly.
Andrew E. Lelling
Acting Assistant Attorney General