Law School Case Brief
Reno v. Bossier Par. Sch. Bd. - 528 U.S. 320, 120 S. Ct. 866 (2000)
In order to obtain preclearance under 42 U.S.C.S. § 1973c, a covered jurisdiction must demonstrate that the proposed change does not have the purpose and will not have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color. A covered jurisdiction, therefore, must make two distinct showings: First, that the proposed change does not have the purpose of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color, and second, that the proposed change will not have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color.
Bossier Parish, Louisiana, a jurisdiction covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, is thereby prohibited from enacting any change in a voting qualification, prerequisite, standard, practice, or procedure without first obtaining preclearance from either the Attorney General or the District Court. Following the 1990 census, the Bossier Parish School Board submitted a proposed redistricting plan to the Attorney General who denied preclearance. The Board then filed this preclearance action in the District Court. Section 5 authorized preclearance of a proposed voting change that does not have the purpose and will not have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color. Appellants conceded that the Board's plan did not have a prohibited "effect" under § 5, since it was not "retrogressive," i.e., did not worsen the position of minority voters, see Beer v. United States, 425 U.S. 130, 47 L. Ed. 2d 629, 96 S. Ct. 1357, but claimed that it violated § 5 because it was enacted for a discriminatory "purpose." The District Court granted preclearance.
Does section 1973c prohibit preclearance of a redistricting plan enacted with a discriminatory but nonretrogressive purpose?
The Supreme Court concluded that the "purpose" prong of section 1973c covered only retrogressive dilution. The Supreme Court rejected petitioners' suggestion that section 1973c extended to discriminatory but nonretrogressive vote-dilutive purposes, which would blur the distinction between sections 1973a and 1973c, thereby shifting the focus of section 1973c from nonretrogression to vote dilution and changing the 1973c benchmark from a jurisdiction's existing plan to a hypothetical, undiluted plan. Such a reading would exacerbate the "substantial" federalism costs that the preclearance procedure already exacted, perhaps to the extent of raising concerns about section 1973c's constitutionality. Therefore, Supreme Court held that section 1973c did not prohibit preclearance of a redistricting plan enacted with a discriminatory but nonretrogressive purpose.
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