Thornburg v. Gingles

478 U.S. 30, 106 S. Ct. 2752 (1986)

 

RULE:

Under § 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 42 U.S.C.S. § 1973, the critical question is whether the use of a contested electoral practice or structure results in members of a protected group having less opportunity than other members of the electorate to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice. Multimember districts may impair the ability of blacks to elect representatives of their choice where blacks vote sufficiently as a bloc as to be able to elect their preferred candidates in a black majority, single-member district and where a white majority votes sufficiently as a bloc usually to defeat the candidates chosen by blacks. It is the difference between the choices made by blacks and whites -- not the reasons for that difference -- that results in blacks having less opportunity than whites to elect their preferred representatives. Thus, under the "results test" of § 2, only the correlation between race of voter and selection of certain candidates, not the causes of the correlation, matters.

FACTS:

Black citizens of North Carolina who were registered to vote filed an action in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. They alleged in part that the state had diluted black voting strength in violation of 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (42 USCS 1973) by enacting a redistricting plan for the state legislature which included a number of multimember districts (including House District 23) having substantial majorities of white voters in areas where there were sufficient concentrations of black voters to form single-member districts with black majorities. While the action was pending, an election was held in which black candidates in the areas in question had sharply greater success than in the past; at that point, black candidates had won one of the three positions from District 23, roughly proportional to the black population therein, in six consecutive elections, but in none of the other challenged districts had they had such success in more than three successive elections. 

ISSUE:

Did the redistricting plan violate § 2 by impairing the opportunity of black voters to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice?

ANSWER:

Yes.

CONCLUSION:

The United States Supreme Court held that, with one exception, the redistricting plan violated § 2 by impairing the opportunity of black voters to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice. The legal concept of racially polarized voting, as it related to claims of vote dilution, referred only to the existence of a correlation between the race of voters and the selection of certain candidates. Appellees did not need to prove causation or intent in order to prove a prima facie case of racial bloc voting and appellants could not rebut that case with evidence of causation or intent. However, the district court did clearly err in ignoring the significance of the sustained success that black voters had experienced in one district.

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