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As amended in 1982, § 2(a) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibits in part any state or political subdivision from imposing or applying any standard, practice, or procedure which results 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.S. § 1973(a). In 1982, Congress clarified that a violation of § 2(a) occurs, if, based upon the totality of circumstances, it is shown that the political processes leading to nomination or election in the State or political subdivision 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. 42 U.S.C.S. § 1973(b). The 1982 Congressional Amendments made clear that certain practices and procedures that result in the denial or abridgment of the right to vote are forbidden even though the absence of proof of discriminatory intent protects them from constitutional challenge.
On November 20, 2017, Plaintiff Latasha Holloway a United States citizen, an eligible and registered voter, and an African American resident of Virginia Beach, initiated a pro se suit against the City of Virginia Beach under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 ("VRA"). On November 13, 2018, Plaintiff Holloway, along with co-Plaintiff Georgia Allen, an unsuccessful Black candidate for an at-large seat on the City Council, retained counsel and filed an Amended Complaint against the City of Virginia Beach, the Virginia Beach City Council ("City Council"), individual members of the City Council, the City Manager, and the Director of Elections (collectively, "Defendants"). Plaintiff Georgia Allen is a United States Citizen, an eligible and registered voter, and an African American resident of Virginia Beach. According to Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint, the City of Virginia Beach's at-large election for City Council violates Section 2 of the VRA by diluting the voting strength of Black, Hispanic, and Asian American voters ("Minority Voters") and, therefore, preventing minority voters from participating in the political process to elect representatives of their choice. Plaintiffs' request that the Court (1) declare Virginia Beach's at-large method of electing members to the City Council violates Section 2 of the VRA; (2) enjoin Defendants from administering any future elections in the City of Virginia Beach under the current at-large method; (3) order implementation of an election system for City Council that complies with Section 2 of the VRA; and (4) order all future elections for the City of Virginia Beach to comply with Section 2 of the VRA. On January 24, 2019, Defendants filed an Answer denying Plaintiffs' claims. On March 22, 2021, Defendants filed a Notice of New Authority indicating that on March 18, 2021, the Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia signed House Bill 2198 into law. The law amends Section 24.2-222 of the Virginia Code to prohibit at-large voting for candidates "in a city or town that imposes district-based or ward-based residency requirements for members of the city or town council." The law will take effect on January 1, 2022, before the next City Council election on November 8, 2022. Defendants also argued that this Court's adjudication of the instant case is moot because HB 2198 invalidates the City's current at-large system. In response, Plaintiffs argued that HB 2198 did not make the instant case moot because the at-large system Plaintiffs challenged is still in effect in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, the bill does not remedy the Section 2 violation, and Defendants have not shown that "'the alleged behavior could not reasonably be expected to recur.'"
Did the at-large system of elections for the Virginia Beach, Virginia, City Council violate § 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965?
The court held that by a preponderance of the evidence, plaintiffs demonstrated that the at-large system of elections for the Virginia Beach, Virginia, City Council denied Hispanics, African Americans, and Asians equal access to the electoral and political process, in contravention of § 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965; plaintiffs established the three Gingles preconditions, and based on a totality of the circumstance's inquiry, plaintiffs satisfied their burden of showing that Hispanic, Black, and Asian communities had less opportunity than other members of the electorate to participate in the political process and elect their preferred candidates.