Backus et al v. State of South Carolina, The et al
FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW in favor of the Defendants as to all of Plaintiffs' claims. Signed by Honorable Patrick Michael Duffy on 3/9/2012. (asni, )
THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF SOUTH CAROLINA
VANDROTH BACKUS, WILLIE
HARRISON BROWN, CHARLESANN )
BUTTONE, BOOKER MANIGAULT, )
EDWARD MCKNIGHT, MOSES MIMS,)
JR, ROOSEVELT WALLACE, and
Case No.: 3:11-cv-03120-HFF-MBS-PMD
WILLIAM G. WILDER, on behalf of
themselves and all other similarly situated )
THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA, )
NIKKI R. HALEY, in her capacity as
Governor, GLENN F. MCCONNELL,
in his capacity as President Pro Tempore
of the Senate and Chairman of the Senate )
Judiciary Committee, ROBERT W.
HARRELL, JR, in his capacity as Speaker )
of the House of Representatives, MARCI )
ANDINO, in her capacity as Executive
Director of the Election Commission;
JOHN H. HUDGENS, III, Chairman,
NICOLE S.WHITE, MARILYN
BOWERS, MARK BENSON, and
THOMAS WARING, in their capacities as )
Commissioners of the Elections
Before HENRY F. FLOYD, United States Circuit Judge, MARGARET B. SEYMOUR,
Chief District Judge, and PATRICK MICHAEL DUFFY, Senior District Judge.
Judge Duffy wrote the opinion, in which Judge Floyd and Chief Judge Seymour
PATRICK MICHAEL DUFFY, Senior District Judge:
This matter was tried without a jury beginning on March 1, 2012. The Court—having
heard the arguments, read the submissions of counsel, and considered the evidence, including
courtroom testimony, deposition testimony, affidavit testimony, and exhibits—enters judgment
for Defendants based on the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.
Ten years ago, this Court was forced to take on the “unwelcomed obligation” of devising
redistricting plans in the face of an impasse arising from the veto of plans passed by the
legislature in 2001. Colleton Cnty. Council v. McConnell, 201 F. Supp. 2d 618, 623 (D.S.C.
2002). In 2003, the General Assembly enacted legislation that modified the Court’s plan for the
House and Senate. These enacted plans and the Colleton County plan for Congress were used
through the 2010 elections and serve as the Benchmark plan for this current litigation. Between
the 2000 and 2010 censuses South Carolina experienced significant population growth—the
state’s total population grew from 4,012,012 to 4,625,364. As a result of this population growth,
South Carolina’s House and Senate districts became malapportioned and needed to be redrawn.
Additionally, South Carolina gained a Congressional seat, necessitating the drawing of new
Congressional election districts. The South Carolina General Assembly enacted Act 72 of 2011
(“House plan”) and Act 75 of 2011 (“Congressional plan”) to replace South Carolina’s prior
districts.1 After these plans were enacted by the legislature and signed into law by Governor
Haley, the House and the Senate submitted the plans to the United States Department of Justice
for administrative preclearance pursuant to section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. §
Additionally, the Senate enacted Act 71 of 2011 (“Senate plan”). The Senate plan was
originally part of this litigation. However, both the Plaintiffs and Plaintiff-Intervenor Senator
Dick Elliot have voluntarily dismissed claims related to the Senate plan.
1973c. The Department of Justice granted preclearance to the plans, at which point the plans
became effective. The requirement of administrative preclearance from the Department of
Justice is limited to certain jurisdictions, such as South Carolina, that have a history of racial
discrimination and is limited to a review of whether the Attorney General interposes any
objection under section 5. While preclearance is a necessary and important step for those
jurisdictions covered under section 5, it is limited in scope to administrative approval that the
particular redistricting plan is not retrogressive under section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
II. Procedural History
On November 11, 2011, Plaintiffs Vandroth Backus, Willie Harrison Brown, Charlesann
Buttone, Booker Manigault, Roosevelt Wallace, and William G. Wilder (“Plaintiffs”) initiated
this declaratory judgment action. Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on November 23, 2011,
seeking declaratory and injunctive relief under section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 42
U.S.C. § 1973, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Article I, section 2 of the United States Constitution, and the
Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Edward McKnight and
Moses Mims were added as Plaintiffs in the amended complaint.
Defendants filed various motions to dismiss and the Court held a hearing on those
motions on January 19, 2012. At the hearing, the Court granted several of the motions, but
denied the motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim. However, the Court ordered Plaintiffs
to submit a clarification of claims, identify the districts at issue, and submit alternative
redistricting plans. Plaintiffs filed those clarifications on January 26, 2012. With the consent of
Defendants, Plaintiffs filed their second amended complaint on February 15, 2012.
After discovery and various pre-trial motions, the Court held a trial in Columbia on
March 1-2, 2012. Pursuant to the Court’s order and agreement of the parties, the trial was
abbreviated by the use of affidavits and deposition testimony.
First, Plaintiffs allege, as to both the House and Congressional plans, a Fourteenth
Amendment racial gerrymandering claim, as provided in Miller v. Johnson, 515 U.S. 900 (1995).
Second, Plaintiffs assert a violation of section 2 of the Voting Rights Act as to both the House
and Congressional plans. Third, although it is not abundantly clear, Plaintiffs seem to assert a
vote-dilution claim under the Fourteenth Amendment. Finally, Plaintiffs assert that the plans
violate the Fifteenth Amendment.
FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1343(a)(4), and 2201(a), and the
suit is authorized under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The three-judge panel has been properly appointed by
the Chief Judge of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2284.
Overview of Fourteenth Amendment racial gerrymandering claim
Plaintiffs assert that the House plan and the Congressional plan violate the Equal
Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. There are two types of equal protection claims
that challenge the use of race in reapportionment: racial gerrymandering claims and vote-dilution
claims. These claims are “analytically distinct.” Miller, 515 U.S. at 911 (internal quotation
marks omitted). The Court turns first to Plaintiffs’ racial gerrymandering claim under the
The essence of a racial gerrymandering claim is that states may not use race as the
predominant factor in separating voters into districts. Id. at 916. Laws that classify citizens
based on race are constitutionally suspect and therefore subject to strict scrutiny, and racially
gerrymandered districting schemes are no different, even when adopted for benign purposes.
Shaw v. Hunt (Shaw II), 517 U.S. 899, 904-05 (1996). This does not mean that race cannot play
a role in redistricting. Miller, 515 U.S. at 916. Legislatures are almost always cognizant of race
when drawing district lines, and simply being aware of race poses no constitutional violation.
See Shaw II, 517 U.S. at 905. Race may be a factor in redistricting decisions, but not the
predominant factor. See Easley v. Cromartie, 532 U.S. 234, 241 (2001). In other words, only
when race is the “dominant and controlling” consideration in drawing district lines does strict
scrutiny apply. See Shaw II, 517 U.S. at 905.
Plaintiffs may prove that race was the predominant consideration in a variety of ways. At
times, reapportionment plans may contain district lines that are so bizarre or highly irregular on
their face—both by their geographic appearance and their demographic makeup—that they
cannot be rationally understood as anything but an effort to separate voters based on race. Shaw
v. Reno (Shaw I), 509 U.S. 630, 646-47 (1993). But bizarreness with regard to shape, although
relevant, is not required to establish a racial gerrymandering claim. Miller, 515 U.S. at 915.
Circumstantial evidence of a district’s shape and demographics is only one way of proving a
racial gerrymander. Id. at 916. Plaintiffs may also establish a racial gerrymandering claim
through the use of “more direct evidence going to legislative purpose that [indicates] race was
the predominant factor.” Id. To prove that race was the predominant factor, Plaintiffs must
always prove that the legislature subordinated traditional race-neutral principles—such as
compactness, contiguity, and respect for political subdivisions or communities—to race as the
primary consideration for drawing district lines.
Id.; see also Easley, 532 U.S. at 241
(recognizing that plaintiffs who challenge a legislature’s use of race as a criterion in redistricting
must show, at a minimum, that it subordinated traditional race-neutral districting principles to
Defendants may disprove that race was the predominant factor by
demonstrating that legislative decisions adhered to traditional race-neutral principles. Miller,
515 U.S. at 916.
If a plaintiff establishes that the legislature used race as the predominant factor in
redistricting, the redistricting scheme will be subject to strict scrutiny. See id. at 920. Strict
scrutiny requires the State to prove that its redistricting scheme is narrowly tailored to achieve a
compelling governmental interest. Id. Remedying past discrimination may serve as such a
compelling state interest, but the State must provide strong evidence of the harm being remedied.
See id. at 922. Compliance with federal antidiscrimination laws alone will not always serve as a
compelling governmental interest. Id. at 921. The prior three-judge panel in Colleton County
determined that “compliance with the Voting Rights Act is a compelling state interest.” Colleton
Cnty., 201 F. Supp. 2d at 639. It held that “[i]f there is a strong basis in evidence for concluding
that creation of a majority-minority district is reasonably necessary to comply with the Act, and
the race-based districting substantially addresses the violation, the plan will not fail under Equal
Protection analysis.” Id. (internal quotation and citations omitted).
Plaintiffs have standing to assert racial gerrymandering claims only if they “live in the
district that is the primary focus of their . . . claim” or they provide specific evidence that they
“personally . . . have been subjected to a racial classification.” United States v. Hays, 515 U.S.
737, 739 (1995). Absent specific evidence showing that they were injured, such plaintiffs do not
have standing to bring a racial gerrymandering claim. Id. It is not enough for plaintiffs to allege
that they reside in a district adjacent to a racially gerrymandered district and that the racial
composition of their district would have been different absent the racial gerrymander. Id. at 746;
see also Sinkfield v. Kelley, 531 U.S. 28, 30 (2000) (per curiam) (recognizing in Hays that the
plaintiffs’ “failure to show the requisite injury . . . was not changed by the fact that the racial
composition of their own district might have been different had the legislature drawn the
adjacent majority-minority district another way”). Plaintiffs cannot assert a generalized
grievance and must show that they have been personally denied equal protection. See Hays, 515
U.S. at 743-44.
Plaintiffs have failed to introduce specific evidence that they have been personally
subjected to a racial classification. Therefore, in assessing Plaintiffs’ evidence as it relates to
their Fourteenth Amendment racial gerrymandering claim, the Court will consider only those
districts in which a Plaintiff resides.
Plaintiffs have failed to establish that race was the predominant
factor in either the House or Congressional redistricting plans.
Plaintiffs failed to establish that race was the predominant factor used in drawing the
district lines in either the House plan or the Congressional plan because their evidence did not
support any of the following: (a) the reapportionment plans contained district lines that were so
bizarre or highly irregular on their face that they cannot be rationally understood as anything but
an effort to separate voters based on race; (b) the legislature subordinated traditional race-neutral
redistricting principles to race; or (c) any legislative purpose indicating that race was the
predominant factor. In contrast, Defendants were able to disprove that race was the predominant
factor by demonstrating that their decisions adhered to traditional race-neutral principles.
Race-neutral traditional redistricting principles
The Court in Colleton County identified race-neutral principles traditionally adhered to in
South Carolina redistricting. Colleton Cnty., 201 F. Supp. 2d at 646-49. They include (1)
recognizing communities of interest; (2) preserving the cores of existing districts; (3) respecting
political boundaries, such as county and municipal boundaries, as well as geographical
boundaries; and (4) keeping incumbents’ residences in districts with their core constituents. Id.
In this regard, the South Carolina House Elections Laws Subcommittee adopted
Guidelines and Criteria For Congressional and Legislative Redistricting. Those guidelines and
criteria require compliance with United States Supreme Court decisions on Constitutional law
and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. See Def. Harrell Ex. 1, 2011 Guidelines and Criteria For
Congressional and Legislative Redistricting, ¶¶ I-II. Specifically, the criteria explain that to
comply with United States Supreme Court decisions, race can be a factor, but cannot be the
predominant factor or be considered in a way that would subordinate the other criteria. Id. The
criteria also provide the standard for population deviations in any plan: “the number of persons
in Congressional districts shall be nearly equal as is practicable” and as to the House of
Representatives, “efforts should be made to limit the overall range of deviation to less than five
percent, or a relative deviation in excess of plus or minus two and one-half percent for each
South Carolina House district.”
Id. at ¶ IV, b-c.
Additionally, contiguity, compactness,
protection of communities of interests, and incumbency protection were all provided for in the
Congressional and legislative districts shall be comprised of contiguous territory.
Congressional and legislative districts shall be compact in form and shall follow
census geography. Bizarre shapes are to be avoided except when required by one
or more of the following factors: (a) census geography; (b) efforts to achieve
equal population, as is practicable, or (c) efforts to comply with the Voting Rights
Act of 1965, as amended. . . .Compactness will be judged in part by the
configuration of prior plans. . . .Compactness will not be judged based upon any
mathematical, statistical, or formula-based calculation or determination.
VII. Communities of Interest
. . . the Elections Laws Subcommittee, the House Judiciary Committee, and the
South Carolina House of Representatives will attempt to accommodate diverse
communities of interest to the extent possible.
VIII. Incumbency Protection
Incumbency shall be considered in the reapportionment process. Reasonable
efforts shall be made to ensure that incumbent legislators remain in their current
districts. Reasonable efforts shall be made to ensure that incumbent legislators
are not placed into districts where they will be compelled to run against the
incumbent members of the South Carolina House of Representatives.
Id. at ¶¶ V-VII. In addition to promulgating theses criteria, the Subcommittee also established a
priority among them should there be a conflict:
IX. Priority of Criteria
a. In establishing congressional and legislative districts, all criteria identified in
these guidelines shall be considered. However, if there is a conflict among the
requirements of these guidelines, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (as amended),
equality of population among districts, and the Unites States Constitution shall
be given priority.
Id. at ¶ IX, a.
At trial, Plaintiffs introduced Dr. Michael P. McDonald, Associate Professor of
Government and Politics at George Mason University, as their expert in this matter.
McDonald opined that the General Assembly used race as the predominant factor in drawing
twenty House districts and the Sixth Congressional District. In reaching this conclusion, his
analysis followed essentially a two-step approach. First, broadly speaking, he identified districts
that exchanged populations in a manner that resulted in a district experiencing a net increase in
black voting age population (BVAP) or maintaining its BVAP. He reasoned that race must have
been a factor in these changes. Second, after determining that race was a factor in these changes,
he examined whether traditional race-neutral redistricting principles were subordinated. If they
were, he concluded that race was the predominant factor.
Even granting Dr. McDonald the inference that race must have been a factor in changes
involving exchanges of areas of low BVAP for areas of high BVAP, he did not convincingly
demonstrate that the General Assembly subordinated traditional race-neutral reasons to race.
The Court is of the opinion that Dr. McDonald relied on incomplete information when reaching
his determination that traditional race-neutral principles were subordinated. He neglected to
consider important sources of information in reaching his conclusion.
however, is that he failed to consider all the traditional race-neutral principles that guide
redistricting in South Carolina. As a result, his opinion that race predominated is incomplete and
Throughout his cross-examination, Dr. McDonald admitted various sources of
information that he failed to consider. For example, he conveyed the impression that he did not
thoroughly review the House record surrounding the redistricting process. See McDonald Trial
Tr. 174. Nor did he examine precinct lines to see whether changes were made to avoid splitting
precincts. Id. at 178-79.
Particularly troubling is his admission that he failed to consider the guidelines and criteria
that the General Assembly devised for the redistricting process, which, as we explained,
contained guiding race-neutral principles. Id. at 175, l. 11. Dr. McDonald also neglected to
review the prior three-judge panel’s decision in Colleton County, even though it contained a
discussion of the traditional race-neutral principles that guide South Carolina redistricting. Id. at
175, l. 8. These latter two sources of information are important for understanding what the
General Assembly professed to be following and what courts have recognized as legitimate
traditional race-neutral principles for redistricting in South Carolina.
Yet Dr. McDonald
Dr. McDonald’s failure to consult this information resulted in his rendering an opinion
without considering all the race-neutral principles that have traditionally guided redistricting in
South Carolina. For example, Dr. McDonald admitted that he did not consider whether the
General Assembly sought to keep communities of interest—as defined by economic, social,
cultural, and historical ties, political beliefs, or voting behavior—intact.
Id. at 176-77.
Recognizing communities of interest is a traditional race-neutral redistricting principle in South
Carolina. Colleton Cnty., 201 F. Supp. 2d at 647. Dr. McDonald also conceded that he did not
consider incumbency protection, partly because he does not believe it is a race-neutral
McDonald Trial Tr. 179, ll. 17-18.
Yet courts have recognized
incumbency protection as a traditional race-neutral redistricting principle in South Carolina.
Colleton Cnty., 201 F. Supp. 2d at 647. Because Dr. McDonald did not consider all of the
traditional race-neutral principles that guide redistricting in South Carolina, the Court is
unconvinced by his opinion that the General Assembly subordinated them to race.
On cross-examination, he admitted that all he considered in his analysis were geographic
and demographic data and election results. McDonald Trial Tr. 173, ll. 12-18. This information
is, of course, highly relevant. But it cannot form the sole basis for determining that traditional
race-neutral principles were subordinated to the use of race in drawing district lines, unless it is
so highly irregular or bizarre on its face as to be unexplainable on any ground other than race,
see Shaw I, 509 U.S. at 646-47. As the Court will later explain, that is not the case here. By so
narrowly limiting the sources of information that he examined and failing to consider all of the
traditional race-neutral principles that guide redistricting in South Carolina, Dr. McDonald was
unable to provide the Court a reliable opinion that the General Assembly subordinated traditional
race-neutral principles to race.
Plaintiffs also object to the “irregular and bizarre” shapes of districts in the adopted plan.
Plaintiffs, primarily through Dr. McDonald’s testimony, have criticized the shapes of the districts
they challenge and have alleged that the shapes can be explained only as the result of the
legislature’s attempts to pack the BVAP into particular districts. “[T]he Supreme Court has
made clear that ‘[t]he Constitution does not mandate regularity of district shape’; rather, for strict
scrutiny to apply, ‘traditional districting criteria must be subordinated to race.’” Fletcher v.
Lamone, No. RWT-11cv3220, 2011 WL 6740169, at *13 (D. Md. Dec. 23, 2011) (emphasis
omitted) (quoting Bush v. Vera, 517 U.S. 952, 962 (1996) (plurality opinion)) (internal quotation
Defendants, however, illustrated race-neutral reasons for the irregular looking shapes in
the challenged districts. For example, respecting existing political boundaries where possible,
such as county lines and old district boundaries, was one common race-neutral reason for the
irregular looking shape of the districts. House District 59 is illustrative. In that district, Dr.
McDonald took issue with the addition and subtraction of population from the district and the
resulting shape. He opined that such a shape could be explained only by the use of race as a
On cross-examination, Defendants’ counsel questioned Dr. McDonald
about the map of House District 59, and Dr. McDonald admitted that the adopted district’s shape
reflects attempts by the House to respect former district boundaries, precinct boundaries, and
county boundaries when possible. See Dr. McDonald Trial Tr. 216, ln. 17 & 219, ln. 4. The
evidence submitted by Defendants shows that this same effort was made with regard to the other
challenged districts and is a race-neutral explanation for why the particular shapes were
necessary. Another common race-neutral explanation was that the census blocs were kept whole
and those blocs have irregular shapes.
Moreover, the Court has reviewed the redrawn districts and compared them to the
preexisting districts under the Benchmark plan. The redrawn districts are not so bizarre or highly
irregular on their face that race can be the only rational explanation for them. Accordingly, more
convincing evidence beyond their geographic appearance and demographic makeup is necessary
to persuade the Court that race predominated in drawing them.
Plaintiffs have also failed to prove any legislative purpose that indicates race was the
predominant factor. In support of their claim that the legislature intentionally discriminated
against African-Americans, Plaintiffs offer affidavit testimony of United States Congressman
James E. Clyburn, South Carolina House of Representatives member Mia Butler Garrick, and
South Carolina Senator C. Bradley Hutto.
Each affidavit discusses the particular elected
official’s experiences during the redistricting process. All three of them share the position that
an African-American candidate of choice can be elected in particular districts without the district
being a majority-minority district, and that BVAP is too high in many districts under the
approved plans. However, despite these assertions and beliefs, they do not offer any convincing
proof that race predominated in the General Assembly’s drawing of the relevant House and
In addition to these affidavits, Representative Bakari Sellars of the South Carolina House
of Representatives testified at trial that the General Assembly intentionally packed AfricanAmericans into voting districts and made redistricting decisions based solely on race rather than
traditional race-neutral redistricting principles. Representative Sellars serves on the Election
Law Subcommittee, which worked extensively in developing the House and Congressional
According to Representative Sellars, race was not only the predominant factor in
developing these plans, but was often the only factor. Sellars Trial Tr. 13, ll. 12-13. He testified
that the Subcommittee relied on predetermined demographic percentages and described how it
would table amendments that lowered BVAP in a district. See id. at 32. During his testimony,
Plaintiffs played a number of recordings depicting the tabling of such amendments after
discussion concerning their effect on the district’s BVAP. Representative Sellars particularly
singled out the chairman of the Subcommittee as concerned solely with an amendment’s effect
on BVAP, even accusing him of using race to create a partisan gerrymander. See, e.g., id. at 13,
24, 26, 74, 89.
The Court first recognizes that Representative Sellars testified as to only two specific
districts in which Plaintiffs lived—House District 102 and the Sixth Congressional District.
Although he provided testimony and Plaintiffs played recordings relating to other specific
districts, no Plaintiff lived in them. As a result, for the reasons previously explained, Plaintiffs
lack standing to challenge those districts.
In any event, the Court finds that Representative Sellars’s testimony is insufficient to
show that race predominated in creating the House and Congressional plans. Representative
Sellars did not demonstrate that his colleagues subordinated traditional race-neutral principles to
race when drawing the districts in which Plaintiffs live.
At times, he made generalized
statements that they did so, but he never provided any in-depth explanation as to where or how.
Although Representative Sellars testified that House District 102 had a bizarre horseshoe shape,
he admitted that its shape was consistent with how it looked under the Benchmark plan. Id. at
61, l. 9. At other times, Representative Sellars applauded the General Assembly for abiding by a
number of specific race-neutral criteria, such as incumbency protection, id. at 69-70, and, as
relating to the Sixth Congressional District, public testimony, id. at 69. In the absence of any
meaningful explanation or analysis as to how traditional race-neutral principles were
subordinated to race, the Court declines to credit his opinion that race predominated.
Moreover, although Representative Sellars ascribed race as the motivating factor for a
few specific legislators, particularly those serving on the Subcommittee with him, we are reticent
to impute such motivations on the General Assembly, or even the Subcommittee, as a whole.
One representative may table an amendment for reasons relating to BVAP, while other
representatives may table the same amendment for reasons unrelated to BVAP. Statements by
individual legislators are certainly probative, but they do not necessarily reflect the motivations
of the body as a whole or even a majority of it.
In sum, although Representative Sellars’s testimony strongly suggested that race was a
factor in drawing many districts lines, it failed to demonstrate that race predominated over
traditional race-neutral principles in the districts in which Plaintiffs reside.
Therefore, after reviewing all of the testimony and evidence offered by Plaintiffs, the
Court finds that Plaintiffs have failed to present any evidence tending to prove a legislative
purpose indicating race was the predominant factor or any other racial discrimination by the
In the end, Plaintiffs have failed to prove that race was the predominant factor in creating
the House and Congressional plans. They focused too much on changes that increased the
BVAP in certain districts and not enough on how traditional race-neutral principles were
subordinated to race in making those changes. This approach risks ignoring that race might have
been an unintended consequence of a change rather than a motivating factor. Moreover, it
ignores that race can be—and often must be—a factor in redistricting. For South Carolina, a
covered jurisdiction under the Voting Rights Act, federal law requires that race be a
consideration. The General Assembly had to consider race to create districts that complied with
federal law, which it did. The Court’s task is to ensure that, in drawing the districts, the General
Assembly did not rely on race at the expense of traditional race-neutral principles. Because
Plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate that race predominated over traditional race-neutral
principles, the Court is satisfied that the General Assembly did not overly rely on race in a
manner that runs afoul of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Accordingly, the Court holds that
Plaintiffs have failed to prove a Fourteenth Amendment racial gerrymandering claim.
Overview of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act
Congress enacted § 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to effectuate the guarantees of the
Fifteenth Amendment. Voinovich, 507 U.S. at 152. Section 2 provides that states may not
impose or apply electoral voting practices or procedures that “result in a denial or abridgement
of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.” 42 U.S.C.
It further provides a totality-of-the-circumstances test for establishing such a
A violation . . . is established if, based on the totality of circumstances, it is shown
that the political processes leading to nomination or election in the State . . . are
not equally open to participation by members of a class of citizens protected by
subsection (a) of this section in that its members have less opportunity than other
members of the electorate to participate in the political process and to elect
representatives of their choice.
Id. § 1973(b). As the text of this provision indicates, the focus of § 2 is on the effect that the
apportionment scheme has on the opportunity for members of a political minority to elect
representatives of their choice. See Voinovich, 507 U.S. at 155. Congress, in revising this
provision in 1982, expressly repudiated an intent requirement that had previously applied.
Thornburg v. Gingles, 478 U.S. 30, 43-44 & n.8 (1986).
The Supreme Court has set forth three “necessary preconditions”—commonly known as
the “Gingles factors” or “Gingles preconditions”—that a plaintiff must satisfy to prove that an
apportionment scheme impairs minority voters’ ability to elect representatives of their choice.
Id. at 50-51. They are as follows: “(1) The minority group must be ‘sufficiently large and
geographically compact to constitute a majority in a single-member district,’ (2) the minority
group must be ‘politically cohesive,’ and (3) the majority must vote ‘sufficiently as a bloc to
enable it . . . usually to defeat the minority’s preferred candidate.’” Bartlett v. Strickland, 556
U.S. 1, 11 (2009) (plurality opinion) (quoting Gingles, 478 U.S. at 50-51). These factors apply
whether the § 2 challenge is to a multimember district or a single-member district. Growe v.
Emison, 507 U.S. 25, 40-41 (1993). “Unless these points are established, there neither has been
a wrong nor can be a remedy.” Id. The Supreme Court, in no uncertain terms, has held that “[i]n
a § 2 case, only when a party has established the Gingles requirements does a court proceed to
analyze whether a violation has occurred based on the totality of the circumstances.” Bartlett,
556 U.S. at 11-12.
In Bartlett v. Strickland, the Supreme Court addressed whether the failure of an
apportionment scheme to create crossover districts may form the basis of a § 2 violation. Id. at
6. A plurality2 answered in the negative—failing to draw districts to create or preserve crossover
Justice Kennedy authored the plurality opinion, which Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito joined. Justice
Thomas, joined by Justice Scalia, wrote a separate opinion concurring in the judgment. They asserted that § 2 does
not authorize vote-dilution claims at all. Bartlett, 556 U.S. at 26 (Thomas, J., concurring in the judgment). Because
the plurality opinion reaches the judgment on the narrowest grounds, this Court treats it as controlling. Marks v.
United States, 430 U.S. 188, 193 (1977) (“When a fragmented Court decides a case and no single rationale
explaining the result enjoys the assent of five Justices, ‘the holding of the Court may be viewed as that position
districts does not give rise to a cognizable § 2 claim. Id. at 25-26. In so holding, the plurality
emphasized that plaintiffs must satisfy the Gingles preconditions to state a § 2 claim. Id. at 1112.
It then held that the first Gingles precondition—which mandates that “[t]he minority
group . . . be ‘sufficiently large and geographically compact to constitute a majority in a singlemember district,’” id. at 11 (quoting Gingles, 478 U.S. at 50)—requires that “the minority
population in the potential election district is greater than 50 percent,” id. at 18-20. In other
words, plaintiffs alleging a § 2 violation must prove that the alleged vote-dilution practice
prevented the creation of an election district that would have contained a majority of minority
voters. See id. If they are unable to make that showing, they cannot satisfy the first Gingles
precondition and therefore cannot state a § 2 claim. See id.3 The Fourth Circuit had previously
reached the same conclusion. See Hall v. Virginia, 385 F.3d 421, 430-31 (4th Cir. 2004).
The plurality opinion in Bartlett, however, left open the issue of whether proof that a
legislature engaged in intentional discrimination when it drew lines to prevent the creation or
preservation of crossover districts could form the basis of a cognizable § 2 claim. Although the
plurality held that a § 2 violation could not arise from the simple failure to create or preserve a
crossover district, it noted that the “case [did not] involve allegations of intentional and wrongful
conduct.” 556 U.S. at 20. It expressly reserved the issue of whether allegations of intentional
discrimination would affect the analysis.
Id. (“We therefore need not consider whether
intentional discrimination affects the Gingles analysis.”). And it instructed that its “holding does
not apply to cases in which there is intentional discrimination against a racial minority.” Id.
taken by those Members who concurred in the judgments on the narrowest grounds . . . .’” (quoting Gregg v.
Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 169 n.15 (1976) (plurality opinion))).
The plurality also recognized that “[i]n areas with substantial crossover voting it is unlikely that the plaintiffs
would be able to establish the third Gingles precondition—bloc voting by majority voters.” 556 U.S. at 24. “It is
difficult to see how the majority-bloc-voting requirement could be met in a district where, by definition, white voters
join in sufficient numbers with minority voters to elect the minority’s preferred candidate.” Id. at 16. The plurality
expressed concern that if it “dispense[d] with the majority-minority requirement, the ruling would call in question
the Gingles framework the Court has applied under § 2.” Id.
Plaintiffs in this case have alleged that the General Assembly engaged in intentional
discrimination in drawing the House and Congressional district lines in a manner that prevents
the creation or preservation of crossover districts.
Plaintiffs’ Section 2 claim fails as to both the House and Congressional plans
The Court need not decide what effect proof of intentional discrimination has on § 2
claims asserting that a redistricting body failed to preserve or create crossover districts.
Plaintiffs have failed to prove intentional discrimination. Just as they have failed to demonstrate
that race as opposed to race-neutral reasons drove the General Assembly’s redistricting
decisions, they similarly have not demonstrated that the General Assembly intended to pack
African-American voters into districts to prevent the creation or preservation of crossover
districts. In the absence of any proof that the General Assembly intentionally discriminated in
creating the House and Congressional plans, Plaintiffs’ § 2 claim is foreclosed by Bartlett and
Hall. Under both cases, to satisfy the first Gingles precondition, Plaintiffs had to demonstrate
that minority voters would form a majority in a potential election district but for the challenged
districting practice. Plaintiffs have not shown that, absent the districting scheme imposed by the
House and Congressional plans, African-Americans could form a majority of voters in another
potential district. As a result, they have failed to prove a § 2 violation.
Plaintiffs’ Fourteenth Amendment vote dilution claim fails
The essence of a vote dilution claim under the Fourteenth Amendment is “that the State
has enacted a particular voting scheme as a purposeful device ‘to minimize or cancel out the
voting potential of racial or ethnic minorities.’” Miller, 515 U.S. at 911 (quoting City of Mobile
v. Bolden, 446 U.S. 55, 66 (1980) (plurality opinion)). Viable vote dilution claims require proof
that the districting scheme has a discriminatory effect and the legislature acted with a
discriminatory purpose. Washington v. Finlay, 664 F.2d 913, 919 (4th Cir. 1981).
To prove discriminatory effect, a plaintiff must show that the redistricting scheme
impermissibly dilutes the voting rights of the racial minority. Id. Broadly speaking, this requires
proof that the racial minority’s voting potential “has been minimize[d] or cancel[led] out or the
political strength of such a group adversely affect[ed].” Id. (alterations in original) (citations
omitted) (quoting Mobile, 446 U.S. at 66, 84) (internal quotation marks omitted). Plaintiffs
alleging vote dilution must offer “a reasonable alternative voting practice to serve as the
benchmark ‘undiluted’ voting practice.” Reno v. Bossier Parish Sch. Bd. (Reno I), 520 U.S. 471,
That is because “the very concept of vote dilution implies—and, indeed,
necessitates—the existence of an ‘undiluted’ practice against which the fact of dilution may be
measured.” Id. Justice Souter has explained that “[w]hile the [benchmark] is in theory the
electoral effectiveness of majority voters, dilution is not merely a lack of proportional
representation and . . . the maximum number of possible majority-minority districts cannot be the
standard.” Reno v. Bossier Parish Sch. Bd. (Reno II), 528 U.S. 320, 367 (2000) (Souter, J.,
concurring in part and dissenting in part) (citation omitted). Instead, an inquiry “into dilutive
effect must rest on some idea of a reasonable allocation of power between minority and majority
voters; this requires a court to compare a challenged voting practice with a reasonable alternative
practice.” Id. at 367-68.
To prove discriminatory purpose, the plaintiff does not need to advance direct evidence
of discriminatory intent. Rogers v. Lodge, 458 U.S. 613, 618 (1982). Instead, “discriminatory
purpose may often be inferred from the totality of the relevant facts, including the fact, if it is
true, that the law bears more heavily on one race than another.” Id. (quoting Washington v.
Davis, 426 U.S. 229, 242 (1976)) (internal quotation marks omitted).
Relevant factors to
consider and weigh include the following: (1) whether bloc voting along racial lines exists;
(2) whether minorities are excluded from the political process; (3) whether minority voter
registration is low; (4) whether elected officials are unresponsive to the needs of minorities;
(5) whether the minority group occupies a depressed socioeconomic status because of inferior
education or employment and housing discrimination; (6) the historical backdrop leading to the
passage of the redistricting legislation; (7) “the specific sequence of events leading up to the
challenged decision”; (8) whether the redistricting body departed from the normal procedural
sequence for passing redistricting legislation; (9) whether the voting strength of a cohesive
minority group has decreased or “retrogressed”; and (10) whether district boundaries have been
manipulated to adjust the relative size of minority groups, including instances of “packing.”
Comm. for a Fair & Balanced Map v. Ill. State Bd. of Elections, No. 11-5065, 2011 WL
4837508, at *3 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 12, 2011).
Plaintiffs have failed to prove that the General Assembly acted with a discriminatory
purpose. There is no convincing direct evidence indicating that the General Assembly drew the
district lines for the purpose of diluting Plaintiffs’ voting strength. Nor do the totality of the facts
yield an inference that the General Assembly acted with such a discriminatory purpose.
More importantly, Plaintiffs have failed to prove a discriminatory effect. They offered no
evidence demonstrating how the House and Congressional plans dilute their votes. Although
they offered alternative plans, they did not provide any analysis or explanation demonstrating
how their plans show that the House and Congressional plans dilute minority votes, particularly
their votes. There was no expert testimony describing how the House and Congressional plans
minimized or cancelled out minority voting potential.
Dr. McDonald asserted that certain
districts in the plans contain a higher BVAP than necessary to elect a representative of choice,
but that does not demonstrate dilution. He did not provide any testimony about the relative
voting strength of the allegedly packed African-American voters if they had been placed in
Simply put, Plaintiffs have offered only allegations of packing based on
increases in certain districts’ BVAP and have not shown that the increase in BVAP in those
districts diluted the voting strength of African-American voters.
Plaintiffs’ Fifteenth Amendment claims
Plaintiffs assert a vote dilution claim and a racial gerrymandering claim under the
Fifteenth Amendment. It is unclear whether vote dilution claims are cognizable under the
Fifteenth Amendment. In recent decisions, the Supreme Court has emphasized that it has never
recognized such a claim. See, e.g., Reno II, 528 U.S. at 334 n.3 (majority opinion) (“[W]e have
never held that vote dilution violates the Fifteenth Amendment.”); Voinovich v. Quilter, 507 U.S.
146, 159 (1993) (“This Court has not decided whether the Fifteenth Amendment applies to votedilution claims; in fact, we never have held any legislative apportionment inconsistent with the
Fifteenth Amendment.”). In light of these decisions, circuits are split on whether vote-dilution
claims are cognizable under the Fifteenth Amendment. Compare Prejean v. Foster, 227 F.3d
504, 519 (5th Cir. 2000) (“Indeed, the Supreme Court has rejected application of the Fifteenth
Amendment to vote dilution causes of action.”), with Page v. Bartels, 248 F.3d 175, 193 n.12 (3d
Cir. 2001) (“We simply cannot conclude that the Court’s silence and reservation of these issues
clearly foreclose Plaintiffs’ Fifteenth Amendment claim . . . .”).
Even if vote-dilution claims exist under the Fifteenth Amendment, the Fourth Circuit has
recognized that they are essentially congruent with vote-dilution claims under the Fourteenth
Amendment. Washington, 664 F.2d at 919. Both require proof of discriminatory purpose and
discriminatory, or dilutive, effect. Id. For the same reasons that Plaintiffs have failed to prove a
Fourteenth Amendment vote-dilution claim, they have failed to prove a Fifteenth Amendment
Plaintiffs’ Fifteenth Amendment racial gerrymandering claim relies on Gomillion v.
Lightfoot, 364 U.S. 339 (1960). In Gomillion, the state legislature redrew the city lines defining
Tuskegee, Alabama. Id. at 341. Prior to the revision, the city lines formed a square shape. Id.
After the redrawing, the city lines constituted a “strangely irregular twenty-eight-sided figure.”
Id. The effect of the redrawing was to remove all of the city’s 400 African-American voters,
except four or five, from the city. Id. This effectively denied the removed citizens the right to
vote in municipal elections. Id. Not a single white voter was removed. Id. Some of the
removed African-American voters challenged the legislation redrawing the lines. Id. The Court,
emphasizing that the redrawing of the lines disenfranchised the African-American voters with
respect to municipal elections on the basis of race, held that the plaintiffs had stated a cognizable
claim under the Fifteenth Amendment. See id. at 346-48.
“Laws violate the Fifteenth Amendment if their purpose and effect are to discriminate
against people on the basis of race/ethnicity with respect to their ability to vote.” Gary D.
Allison, Democracy Delayed: The High Court Distorts Voting Rights Principles to Thwart
Partially the Texas Republican Gerrymander, 42 TULSA L. REV. 605, 622 (2007) (emphasis
added). One commentator has warned that courts must differentiate between Fourteenth and
Fifteenth Amendment racial gerrymandering claims. Henry L. Chambers, Jr., Colorblindness,
Race Neutrality, and Voting Rights, 51 EMORY L.J. 1397, 1431 n.139 (2002).
gerrymandering runs afoul of the Fifteenth Amendment when it denies racial minorities the
ability to vote at all in an election based on their race, as occurred in Gomillion. Id. Fourteenth
Amendment racial gerrymandering claims do not necessarily result in the denial of the right to
vote. See id. Instead, the harm under the Fourteenth Amendment involves the State using racial
classifications generally. Under Fourteenth Amendment claims, “[t]he voter is allowed to vote,
albeit in a different district than she prefers.” Id. Because Plaintiffs have offered no evidence,
nor have they argued, that any Plaintiff was denied the ability to vote, the Court finds that the
House and Congressional plans do not violate the Fifteenth Amendment.
Therefore, judgment is entered in favor of the Defendants as to all of Plaintiffs’ claims.
Having entered judgment in Defendants favor, all pending motions are moot.
March 9, 2012