Georgia v. Ashcroft

539 U.S. 461, 123 S. Ct. 2498 (2003)



In a retrogression analysis under § 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 42 U.S.C.S. § 1973c, in addition to the comparative ability of a minority group to elect a candidate of its choice, the other highly relevant factor in a retrogression inquiry is the extent to which a new plan changes the minority group's opportunity to participate in the political process. The power to influence the political process is not limited to winning elections. 


After the 2000 decennial census, appellant State adopted a new state voter redistricting plan. The plan "unpacked" the most heavily concentrated majority-minority districts in the benchmark plan, and created a number of new influence districts. The State sought, pursuant to § 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to have the plan precleared in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, which refused to do so. 


Did the district court err in refusing to preclear the new state voter redistricting plan without considering all the relevant factors?




The Supreme Court found that the private intervenors were properly allowed to intervene. The Court held, however, that the district court failed to consider all the relevant factors when it examined whether the plan resulted in a retrogression of black voters' effective exercise of the electoral franchise. First, while the district court acknowledged the importance of assessing the statewide plan as a whole, it focused too narrowly on three proposed districts. It did not examine the increases in the black voting age population that occurred in many of the other districts. Second, the District Court did not explore in any meaningful depth any other factor beyond the comparative ability of black voters in the majority-minority districts to elect a candidate of their choice. In doing so, it paid inadequate attention to the support of legislators representing the benchmark majority-minority districts and the maintenance of the legislative influence of those representatives.

Because the district court was in a better position to reweigh all the facts in the record in the first instance in light of the Court's explication of retrogression, the judgment was vacated, and the case was remanded for further proceedings consistent with the opinion.

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