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Reno v. Bossier
Parish Fact Sheet
Supreme Court decides voting rights case
- On January 24, 2000, the Supreme Court agreed with CIR that the Department
of Justice may not deny pre-clearance to local redistricting plans that
maintain minority voting strength, even if they do not maximize such
voting strength according to a hypothetical ideal.
- This case is considered significant because it tests a controversial
legal theory used by the U.S. Justice Department to force local officials
to adopt redistricting plans that hypothetically maximize minority voting
strength. The NAACP and the Justice Department argued in this case that
even though Bossier Parish's redistricting plan preserved minority voting
strength, merely preserving minority voting strength constituted racial
discrimination and provided a legal basis for refusing to pre-clear
- Bossier Parish is a rural district in northern Louisiana with a black
voting age population of about 18%. As a southern jurisdiction, it must
obtain pre-clearance under Section Five of the Voting Rights Act from
the U.S. Department of Justice before implementing any redistricting
plan. At issue in this case is the legal standard that governs the pre-clearance
- The Bossier Parish School Board was required to redraw its voting
districts after the 1990 census. The Board adopted the districting plan
then in use by the Police Jury, which is the governing body of Bossier
Parish. The Police Jury plan had been pre-cleared by the Justice Department,
and the School Board reasonably assumed that if it adopted the same
plan, it would receive prompt pre-clearance as well. In addition, the
Police Jury plan had been supported by the one black member of the Police
Jury when it had been adopted, kept intact every black population concentration,
and complied with state law and traditional districting principles,
such as compactness and maintaining the integrity of municipal, district,
and precinct boundaries.
- In operation, the Police Jury plan has resulted in the election of
three black members to the School Board from majority-white districts.
This amounts to 25% black representation on the Board, slightly in excess
of the black percentage of the population of Bossier Parish.
- At the time the School Board was considering whether to adopt the
Police Jury Plan, the local chapter of the NAACP presented an alternative
plan which would have created two black-majority voting districts. The
failure of the School Board to adopt the NAACP alternative plan formed
the basis of the Justice Department's contention that the School Board
acted in a discriminatory manner.
- The School Board argues that it could not have adopted the NAACP alternative
because it would have violated state election law. Louisiana law requires
that school board election districts contain "whole precincts established
by the parish governing authority." That is, under Louisiana law, the
School Board was forced to work with the existing precincts used by
the Policy Jury.
- The NAACP plan required splitting 46 of the existing Police Jury voting
precincts 65 times (some of the precincts suffering more than a single
split). The NAACP acknowledged this state law prohibition, but argued
that the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution required the School
Board to ignore state law.
- Despite have pre-cleared the identical Police Jury plan, the Justice
Department denied pre-clearance of the School Board Plan.
- Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 governs pre-clearance.
It requires a jurisdiction to prove that a proposed redistricting plan
"does not have the purpose and will not have the effect of" retrogressing
minority voting strength. The Justice Department has taken the position
that retrogression must be measured by a hypothetical plan designed
to maximize minority voting strength. Bossier Parish took the position
that "retrogression" must be measured by the minority voting strength
under the existing plan.
- In the first Supreme Court Decision (Bossier I) the Court held that
Section 5 only requires a jurisdiction adopt a plan which does not have
the "effect" of retrogressing minority voting strength as measured by
the existing plan, not an ideal or hypothetical plan. Thus, a plan cannot
be denied pre-clearance just because it does not maximize minority voting
- However, the Court also held that evidence about a jurisdiction's
decision not to maximize minority voting strength might be relevant
to assess whether it had an intention to adopt a plan to retrogress
minority voting strength (even if the plan did not actually retrogress
such voting strength). The Court remanded the case to the District Court
to examine whether the circumstances surrounding the School Board's
failure to adopt the NAACP plan constituted evidence that it at least
intended to retrogress minority voting strength.
- The Court also left open the question of whether evidence of some
non retrogressive, but nevertheless discriminatory, "purpose" might
also be grounds for denial of pre-clearance under Section 5.
- On remand, the District Court held that the decision not to adopt
the NAACP plan did not constitute evidence of a retrogressive intent
because there were legitimate reasons to have adopted the Police Jury
Plan. In addition the District Court held that there was no evidence
in the record about the existence of a non-retrogressive but nonetheless
discriminatory purpose and therefore declined to address the question
the Supreme Court left open about the relevance of such evidence under
- The following case documents may be accessed through CIR's web site:
Court Decision (January 24, 2000)
Court Decision (May 1, 1998)
Court Decision (Bossier I) (May 12, 1997)
Court Decision (November 2, 1995)
- For more information, contact Terry Pell at the Center for Individual
Rights, 202-844-8400, ext. 113, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.