Supreme Court of the United States
LACY H. THORNBURG,
Attorney General of North Carolina
RALPH GINGLES et al.
Decided June 30, 1986
Justice O’Connor, Concurring
|Topic: Civil Rights*||Court vote: 9–0|
Click any Justice for detailJoining O'Connor opinion: Chief Justice BURGER Justice POWELL Justice REHNQUIST
|Citation: 478 U.S. 30||Docket: 83–1968||Audio: Listen to this case's oral arguments at Oyez|
* As categorized by the Washington University Law Supreme Court Database
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JUSTICE O'CONNOR, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE, JUSTICE POWELL, and JUSTICE REHNQUIST join, concurring in the judgment.
In this case, we are called upon to construe § 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as amended June 29, 1982. Amended § 2 is intended to codify the "results" test employed in Whitcomb v. Chavis, 403 U. S. 124 (1971), and White v. Regester, 412 U. S. 755 (1973), and to reject the "intent" test propounded in the plurality opinion in Mobile v. Bolden, 446 U.S. 55 (1980). S.Rep. No. 97-417, pp. 27-28 (1982) (hereinafter S.Rep.). Whereas Bolden required members of a racial minority who alleged impairment of their voting strength to prove that the challenged electoral system was created or maintained with a discriminatory purpose and led to discriminatory results, under the results test, "plaintiffs may choose to establish discriminatory results without proving any kind of discriminatory purpose." S.Rep. at 28. At the same time, however, § 2 unequivocally disclaims the creation of a right to proportional representation. This disclaimer was essential to the compromise that resulted in passage of the amendment. See id. at 193-194 (additional views of Sen. Dole).
In construing this compromise legislation, we must make every effort to be faithful to the balance Congress struck. This is not an easy task. We know that Congress intended to allow vote dilution claims to be brought under § 2, but we also know that Congress did not intend to create a right to proportional representation for minority voters. There is an inherent tension between what Congress wished to do and what it wished to avoid, because any theory of vote dilution must necessarily rely to some extent on a measure of minority voting strength that makes some reference to the proportion between the minority group and the electorate at large. In addition, several important aspects of the "results" test had received little attention in this Court's cases or in the decisions of the Courts of Appeals employing that test on which Congress also relied. See id. at 32. Specifically, the legal meaning to be given to the concepts of "racial bloc voting" and "minority voting strength" had been left largely unaddressed by the courts when § 2 was amended.
The Court attempts to resolve all these difficulties today. First, the Court supplies definitions of racial bloc voting and minority voting strength that will apparently be applicable in all cases, and that will dictate the structure of vote dilution litigation. Second, the Court adopts a test, based on the level of minority electoral success, for determining when an electoral scheme has sufficiently diminished minority voting strength to constitute vote dilution. Third, although the Court does not acknowledge it expressly, the combination of the Court's definition of minority voting strength and its test for vote dilution results in the creation of a right to a form of proportional representation in favor of all geographically and politically cohesive minority groups that are large enough to constitute majorities if concentrated within one or more single-member districts. In so doing, the Court has disregarded the balance struck by Congress in amending § 2, and has failed to apply the results test as described by this Court in Whitcomb and White.
In order to explain my disagreement with the Court's interpretation of § 2, it is useful to illustrate the impact that alternative districting plans or types of districts typically have on the likelihood that a minority group will be able to elect candidates it prefers, and then to set out the critical elements of a vote dilution claim as they emerge in the Court's opinion.
Consider a town of 1,000 voters that is governed by a council of four representatives, in which 30% of the voters are black, and in which the black voters are concentrated in one section of the city and tend to vote as a bloc. It would be possible to draw four single-member districts, in one of which blacks would constitute an overwhelming majority. The black voters in this district would be assured of electing a representative of their choice, while any remaining black voters in the other districts would be submerged in large white majorities. This option would give the minority group roughly proportional representation.
Alternatively, it would usually be possible to draw four single-member districts in two of which black voters constituted much narrower majorities of about 60%. The black voters in these districts would often be able to elect the representative of their choice in each of these two districts, but if even 20% of the black voters supported the candidate favored by the white minority in those districts, the candidates preferred by the majority of black voters might lose. This option would, depending on the circumstances of a particular election, sometimes give the minority group more than proportional representation, but would increase the risk that the group would not achieve even roughly proportional representation.
It would also usually be possible to draw four single-member districts in each of which black voters constituted a minority. In the extreme case, black voters would constitute 30% of the voters in each district. Unless approximately 30% of the white voters in this extreme case backed the minority candidate, black voters in such a district would be unable to elect the candidate of their choice in an election between only two candidates, even if they unanimously supported him. This option would make it difficult for black voters to elect candidates of their choice even with significant white support, and all but impossible without such support.
Finally, it would be possible to elect all four representatives in a single at-large election in which each voter could vote for four candidates. Under this scheme, white voters could elect all the representatives even if black voters turned out in large numbers and voted for one and only one candidate. To illustrate, if only four white candidates ran, and each received approximately equal support from white voters, each would receive about 700 votes, whereas black voters could cast no more than 300 votes for any one candidate. If, on the other hand, eight white candidates ran, and white votes were distributed less evenly, so that the five least favored white candidates received fewer than 300 votes while three others received 400 or more, it would be feasible for blacks to elect one representative with 300 votes, even without substantial white support. If even 25% of the white voters backed a particular minority candidate, and black voters voted only for that candidate, the candidate would receive a total of 475 votes, which would ensure victory unless white voters also concentrated their votes on four of the eight remaining candidates, so that each received the support of almost 70% of white voters. As these variations show, the at-large or multimember district has an inherent tendency to submerge the votes of the minority. The minority group's prospects for electoral success under such a district heavily depend on a variety of factors such as voter turnout, how many candidates run, how evenly white support is spread, how much white support is given to a candidate or candidates preferred by the minority group, and the extent to which minority voters engage in "bullet voting" (which occurs when voters refrain from casting all their votes to avoid the risk that, by voting for their lower-ranked choices, they may give those candidates enough votes to defeat their higher-ranked choices, see ante at 478 U. S. 38 -39, n. 5).
There is no difference in principle between the varying effects of the alternatives outlined above and the varying effects of alternative single-district plans and multimember districts. The type of districting selected and the way in which district lines are drawn can have a powerful effect on the likelihood that members of a geographically and politically cohesive minority group will be able to elect candidates of their choice.
Although § 2 does not speak in terms of "vote dilution," I agree with the Court that proof of vote dilution can establish a violation of § 2 as amended. The phrase "vote dilution," in the legal sense, simply refers to the impermissible discriminatory effect that a multimember or other districting plan has when it operates "to cancel out or minimize the voting strength of racial groups." White, 412 U.S. at 412 U. S. 765. See also Fortson v. Dorsey, 379 U. S. 433, 379 U. S. 439 (1965). This definition, however, conceals some very formidable difficulties. Is the "voting strength" of a racial group to be assessed solely with reference to its prospects for electoral success, or should courts look at other avenues of political influence open to the racial group? Insofar as minority voting strength is assessed with reference to electoral success, how should undiluted minority voting strength be measured? How much of an impairment of minority voting strength is necessary to prove a violation of § 2? What constitutes racial bloc voting, and how is it proved? What weight is to be given to evidence of actual electoral success by minority candidates in the face of evidence of racial bloc voting?
The Court resolves the first question summarily: minority voting strength is to be assessed solely in terms of the minority group's ability to elect candidates it prefers. Ante at 478 U. S. 48 -49, n. 15. Under this approach, the essence of a vote dilution claim is that the State has created single-member or multimember districts that unacceptably impair the minority group's ability to elect the candidates its members prefer.
In order to evaluate a claim that a particular multimember district or single-member district has diluted the minority group's voting strength to a degree that violates § 2, however, it is also necessary to construct a measure of "undiluted" minority voting strength. "[T]he phrase [vote dilution] itself suggests a norm with respect to which the fact of dilution may be ascertained." Mississippi Republican Executive Committee v. Brooks, 469 U. S. 1002, 1012 (1984) (REHNQUIST, J., dissenting from summary affirmance). Put simply, in order to decide whether an electoral system has made it harder for minority voters to elect the candidates they prefer, a court must have an idea in mind of how hard it "should" be for minority voters to elect their preferred candidates under an acceptable system.
Several possible measures of "undiluted" minority voting strength suggest themselves. First, a court could simply use proportionality as its guide: if the minority group constituted 30% of the voters in a given area, the court would regard the minority group as having the potential to elect 30% of the representatives in that area. Second, a court could posit some alternative districting plan as a "normal" or "fair" electoral scheme, and attempt to calculate how many candidates preferred by the minority group would probably be elected under that scheme. There are, as we have seen, a variety of ways in which even single-member districts could be drawn, and each will present the minority group with its own array of electoral risks and benefits; the court might, therefore, consider a range of acceptable plans in attempting to estimate "undiluted" minority voting strength by this method. Third, the court could attempt to arrive at a plan that would maximize feasible minority electoral success, and use this degree of predicted success as its measure of "undiluted" minority voting strength. If a court were to employ this third alternative, it would often face hard choices about what would truly "maximize" minority electoral success. An example is the scenario described above, in which a minority group could be concentrated in one completely safe district or divided among two districts in each of which its members would constitute a somewhat precarious majority.
The Court today has adopted a variant of the third approach, to-wit, undiluted minority voting strength means the maximum feasible minority voting strength. In explaining the elements of a vote dilution claim, the Court first states that
the minority group must be able to demonstrate that it is sufficiently large and geographically compact to constitute a majority in a single-member district.
Ante at 478 U. S. 50. If not, apparently the minority group has no cognizable claim that its ability to elect the representatives of its choice has been impaired. [ Footnote 2/1 ] Second, "the minority group must be able to show that it is politically cohesive," that is, that a significant proportion of the minority group supports the same candidates. Ante at 478 U. S. 51. Third, the Court requires the minority group to
demonstrate that the white majority votes sufficiently as a bloc to enable it -in the absence of special circumstances... -usually to defeat the minority's preferred candidate.
Ibid. If these three requirements are met,
the minority group demonstrates that submergence in a white multimember district impedes its ability to elect its chosen representatives.
Ibid. That is to say, the minority group has proved vote dilution in violation of § 2.
The Court's definition of the elements of a vote dilution claim is simple and invariable: a court should calculate minority voting strength by assuming that the minority group is concentrated in a single-member district in which it constitutes a voting majority. Where the minority group is not large enough, geographically concentrated enough, or politically cohesive enough for this to be possible, the minority group's claim fails. Where the minority group meets these requirements, the representatives that it could elect in the hypothetical district or districts in which it constitutes a majority will serve as the measure of its undiluted voting strength. Whatever plan the State actually adopts must be assessed in terms of the effect it has on this undiluted voting strength. If this is indeed the single, universal standard for evaluating undiluted minority voting strength for vote dilution purposes, the standard is applicable whether what is challenged is a multimember district or a particular single-member districting scheme.
The Court's statement of the elements of a vote dilution claim also supplies an answer to another question posed above: how much of an impairment of undiluted minority voting strength is necessary to prove vote dilution. The Court requires the minority group that satisfies the threshold requirements of size and cohesiveness to prove that it will usually be unable to elect as many representatives of its choice under the challenged districting scheme as its undiluted voting strength would permit. This requirement, then, constitutes the true test of vote dilution. Again, no reason appears why this test would not be applicable to a vote dilution claim challenging single-member, as well as multimember, districts.
This measure of vote dilution, taken in conjunction with the Court's standard for measuring undiluted minority voting strength, creates what amounts to a right to usual, roughly proportional representation on the part of sizable, compact, cohesive minority groups. If, under a particular multimember or single-member district plan, qualified minority groups usually cannot elect the representatives they would be likely to elect under the most favorable single-member districting plan, then § 2 is violated. Unless minority success under the challenged electoral system regularly approximates this rough version of proportional representation, that system dilutes minority voting strength and violates § 2.
To appreciate the implications of this approach, it is useful to return to the illustration of a town with four council representatives given above. Under the Court's approach, if the black voters who constitute 30% of the town's voting population do not usually succeed in electing one representative of their choice, then, regardless of whether the town employs at-large elections or is divided into four single-member districts, its electoral system violates § 2. Moreover, if the town had a black voting population of 40%, on the Court's reasoning, the black minority, so long as it was geographically and politically cohesive, would be entitled usually to elect two of the four representatives, since it would normally be possible to create two districts in which black voters constituted safe majorities of approximately 80%.
To be sure, the Court also requires that plaintiffs prove that racial bloc voting by the white majority interacts with the challenged districting plan so as usually to defeat the minority's preferred candidate. In fact, however, this requirement adds little that is not already contained in the Court's requirements that the minority group be politically cohesive, and that its preferred candidates usually lose. As the Court acknowledges, under its approach,
in general, a white bloc vote that normally will defeat the combined strength of minority support plus white crossover' votes rises to the level of legally significant white bloc voting.
Ante at 56. But this is to define legally significant bloc voting by the racial majority in terms of the extent of the racial minority's electoral success. If the minority can prove that it could constitute a majority in a single-member district, that it supported certain candidates, and that those candidates have not usually been elected, then a finding that there is "legally significant white bloc voting" will necessarily follow. Otherwise, by definition, those candidates would usually have won, rather than lost.
As shaped by the Court today, then, the basic contours of a vote dilution claim require no reference to most of the " Zimmer factors" that were developed by the Fifth Circuit to implement White's results test, and which were highlighted in the Senate Report. S.Rep. at 28-29; see Zimmer v. McKeithen, 485 F.2d 1297 (1973) (en banc), aff'd, sub nom. East Carroll Parish School Board v. Marshall, 424 U. S. 636 (1976) (per curiam). If a minority group is politically and geographically cohesive and large enough to constitute a voting majority in one or more single-member districts, then, unless white voters usually support the minority's preferred candidates in sufficient numbers to enable the minority group to elect as many of those candidates as it could elect in such hypothetical districts, it will routinely follow that a vote dilution claim can be made out, and the multimember district will be invalidated. There is simply no need for plaintiffs to establish "the history of voting-related discrimination in the State or political subdivision," ante at 478 U. S. 44, or
the extent to which the State or political subdivision has used voting practices or procedures that tend to enhance the opportunity for discrimination against the minority group,
ante at 478 U. S. 45, or "the exclusion of members of the minority group from candidate slating processes," ibid., or
the extent to which minority group members bear the effects of past discrimination in areas such as education, employment, and health,
ibid., or "the use of overt or subtle racial appeals in political campaigns," ibid., or that "elected officials are unresponsive to the particularized needs of the members of the minority group." Ibid. Of course, these other factors may be supportive of such a claim, because they may strengthen a court's confidence that minority voters will be unable to overcome the relative disadvantage at which they are placed by a particular districting plan, or suggest a more general lack of opportunity to participate in the political process. But the fact remains that electoral success has now emerged, under the Court's standard, as the linchpin of vote dilution claims, and that the elements of a vote dilution claim create an entitlement to roughly proportional representation within the framework of single-member districts.
In my view, the Court's test for measuring minority voting strength and its test for vote dilution, operating in tandem, come closer to an absolute requirement of proportional representation than Congress intended when it codified the results test in § 2. It is not necessary or appropriate to decide in this case whether § 2 requires a uniform measure of undiluted minority voting strength in every case, nor have appellants challenged the standard employed by the District Court for assessing undiluted minority voting strength.
In this case, the District Court seems to have taken an approach quite similar to the Court's in making its preliminary assessment of undiluted minority voting strength:
At the time of the creation of these multi-member districts, there were concentrations of black citizens within the boundaries of each that were sufficient in numbers and contiguity to constitute effective voting majorities in single-member districts lying wholly within the boundaries of the multi-member districts, which single-member districts would satisfy all constitutional requirements of population and geographical configuration.
Gingles v. Edmisten, 590 F.Supp. 345, 358-359 (EDNC 1984). The Court goes well beyond simply sustaining the District Court's decision to employ this measure of undiluted minority voting strength as a reasonable one that is consistent with § 2. In my view, we should refrain from deciding in this case whether a court must invariably posit as its measure of "undiluted" minority voting strength single-member districts in which minority group members constitute a majority. There is substantial doubt that Congress intended "undiluted minority voting strength" to mean "maximum feasible minority voting strength." Even if that is the appropriate definition in some circumstances, there is no indication that Congress intended to mandate a single, universally applicable standard for measuring undiluted minority voting strength, regardless of local conditions and regardless of the extent of past discrimination against minority voters in a particular State or political subdivision. Since appellants have not raised the issue, I would assume that what the District Court did here was permissible under § 2, and leave open the broader question whether § 2 requires this approach.
What appellants do contest is the propriety of the District Court's standard for vote dilution. Appellants claim that the District Court held that,
[a]lthough blacks had achieved considerable success in winning state legislative seats in the challenged districts, their failure to consistently attain the number of seats that numbers alone would presumptively give them ( i.e., in proportion to their presence in the population),
standing alone, constituted a violation of § 2. Brief for Appellants 20 (emphasis in original). This holding, appellants argue, clearly contravenes § 2's proviso that
nothing in this section establishes a right to have members of a protected class elected in numbers equal to their proportion in the population.
42 U.S.C. § 1973.
I believe appellants' characterization of the District Court's holding is incorrect. In my view, the District Court concluded that there was a severe diminution in the prospects for black electoral success in each of the challenged districts, as compared to single-member districts in which blacks could constitute a majority, and that this severe diminution was, in large part, attributable to the interaction of the multimember form of the district with persistent racial bloc voting on the part of the white majorities in those districts. See 590 F.Supp. at 372. [ Footnote 2/2 ] The District Court attached great weight to this circumstance as one part of its ultimate finding that
the creation of each of the multi-member districts challenged in this action results in the black registered voters of that district being submerged as a voting minority in the district, and thereby having less opportunity than do other members of the electorate to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice.
Id. at 374. But the District Court's extensive opinion clearly relies as well on a variety of the other Zimmer factors, as the Court's thorough summary of the District Court's findings indicates. See ante at 478 U. S. 38 -41.
If the District Court had held that the challenged multimember districts violated § 2 solely because blacks had not consistently attained seats in proportion to their presence in the population, its holding would clearly have been inconsistent with § 2's disclaimer of a right to proportional representation. Surely Congress did not intend to say, on the one hand, that members of a protected class have no right to proportional representation, and on the other, that any consistent failure to achieve proportional representation, without more, violates § 2. A requirement that minority representation usually be proportional to the minority group's proportion in the population is not quite the same as a right to strict proportional representation, but it comes so close to such a right as to be inconsistent with § 2's disclaimer, and with the results test that is codified in § 2. In the words of Senator Dole, the architect of the compromise that resulted in passage of the amendments to § 2:
The language of the subsection explicitly rejects, as did White and its progeny, the notion that members of a protected class have a right to be elected in numbers equal to their proportion of the population. The extent to which members of a protected class have been elected under the challenged practice or structure is just one factor, among the totality of circumstances to be considered, and is not dispositive.
S.Rep. at 194 (additional views of Sen. Dole).
On the same reasoning, I would reject the Court's test for vote dilution. The Court measures undiluted minority voting strength by reference to the possibility of creating single-member districts in which the minority group would constitute a majority, rather than by looking to raw proportionality alone. The Court's standard for vote dilution, when combined with its test for undiluted minority voting strength, makes actionable every deviation from usual, rough proportionality in representation for any cohesive minority group as to which this degree of proportionality is feasible within the framework of single-member districts. Requiring that every minority group that could possibly constitute a majority in a single-member district be assigned to such a district would approach a requirement of proportional representation as nearly as is possible within the framework of single-member districts. Since the Court's analysis entitles every such minority group usually to elect as many representatives under a multimember district as it could elect under the most favorable single-member district scheme, it follows that the Court is requiring a form of proportional representation. This approach is inconsistent with the results test and with § 2's disclaimer of a right to proportional representation.
In enacting § 2, Congress codified the "results" test this Court had employed, as an interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment, in White and Whitcomb. The factors developed by the Fifth Circuit and relied on by the Senate Report simply fill in the contours of the "results" test as described in those decisions, and do not purport to redefine or alter the ultimate showing of discriminatory effect required by Whitcomb and White. In my view, therefore, it is to Whitcomb and White that we should look in the first instance in determining how great an impairment of minority voting strength is required to establish vote dilution in violation of § 2.
The "results" test as reflected in Whitcomb and White requires an inquiry into the extent of the minority group's opportunities to participate in the political processes. See White, 412 U.S. at 412 U. S. 766. While electoral success is a central part of the vote dilution inquiry, White held that, to prove vote dilution, "it is not enough that the racial group allegedly discriminated against has not had legislative seats in proportion to its voting potential," id. at 412 U. S. 765 -766, and Whitcomb flatly rejected the proposition that
any group with distinctive interests must be represented in legislative halls if it is numerous enough to command at least one seat and represents a majority living in an area sufficiently compact to constitute a single member district.
403 U.S. at 403 U. S. 156. To the contrary, the results test as described in White requires plaintiffs to establish
that the political processes leading to nomination and election were not equally open to participation by the group in question -that its members had less opportunity than did other residents in the district to participate in the political processes and to elect legislators of their choice.
412 U.S. at 412 U. S. 766. By showing both "a history of disproportionate results" and "strong indicia of lack of political power and the denial of fair representation," the plaintiffs in White met this standard, which, as emphasized just today, requires
a substantially greater showing of adverse effects than a mere lack of proportional representation to support a finding of unconstitutional vote dilution.
Davis v. Bandemer, post at 478 U. S. 131 (plurality opinion).
When Congress amended § 2, it intended to adopt this "results" test, while abandoning the additional showing of discriminatory intent required by Bolden. The vote dilution analysis adopted by the Court today clearly bears little resemblance to the "results" test that emerged in Whitcomb and White. The Court's test for vote dilution, combined with its standard for evaluating "voting potential," White, supra, at 412 U. S. 766, means that any racial minority with distinctive interests must usually
be represented in legislative halls if it is numerous enough to command at least one seat and represents a minority living in an area sufficiently compact to constitute
a voting majority in "a single member district." Whitcomb, 403 U.S. at 403 U. S. 156. Nothing in Whitcomb, White, or the language and legislative history of § 2 supports the Court's creation of this right to usual, roughly proportional representation on the part of every geographically compact, politically cohesive minority group that is large enough to form a majority in one or more single-member districts.
I would adhere to the approach outlined in Whitcomb and White and followed, with some elaboration, in Zimmer and other cases in the Courts of Appeals prior to Bolden. Under that approach, a court should consider all relevant factors bearing on whether the minority group has
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. § 1973 (emphasis added). The court should not focus solely on the minority group's ability to elect representatives of its choice. Whatever measure of undiluted minority voting strength the court employs in connection with evaluating the presence or absence of minority electoral success, it should also bear in mind that "the power to influence the political process is not limited to winning elections." Davis v. Bandemer, post at 478 U. S. 132. Of course, the relative lack of minority electoral success under a challenged plan, when compared with the success that would be predicted under the measure of undiluted minority voting strength the court is employing, can constitute powerful evidence of vote dilution. Moreover, the minority group may, in fact, lack access to or influence upon representatives it did not support as candidates. Cf. Davis v. Bandemer, post at 478 U. S. 169 -170 (POWELL, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part). Nonetheless, a reviewing court should be required to find more than simply that the minority group does not usually attain an undiluted measure of electoral success. The court must find that even substantial minority success will be highly infrequent under the challenged plan before it may conclude, on this basis alone, that the plan operates "to cancel out or minimize the voting strength of [the] racial grou[p]." White, supra, at 412 U. S. 765.
Only three Justices of the Court join Part III-C of JUSTICE BRENNAN's opinion, which addresses the validity of the statistical evidence on which the District Court relied in finding racially polarized voting in each of the challenged districts. Insofar as statistical evidence of divergent racial voting patterns is admitted solely to establish that the minority group is politically cohesive and to assess its prospects for electoral success, I agree that defendants cannot rebut this showing by offering evidence that the divergent racial voting patterns may be explained in part by causes other than race, such as an underlying divergence in the interests of minority and white voters. I do not agree, however, that such evidence can never affect the overall vote dilution inquiry. Evidence that a candidate preferred by the minority group in a particular election was rejected by white voters for reasons other than those which made that candidate the preferred choice of the minority group would seem clearly relevant in answering the question whether bloc voting by white voters will consistently defeat minority candidates. Such evidence would suggest that another candidate, equally preferred by the minority group, might be able to attract greater white support in future elections.
I believe Congress also intended that explanations of the reasons why white voters rejected minority candidates would be probative of the likelihood that candidates elected without decisive minority support would be willing to take the minority's interests into account. In a community that is polarized along racial lines, racial hostility may bar these and other indirect avenues of political influence to a much greater extent than in a community where racial animosity is absent although the interests of racial groups diverge. Indeed, the Senate Report clearly stated that one factor that could have probative value in § 2 cases was
whether there is a significant lack of responsiveness on the part of elected officials to the particularized needs of the members of the minority group.
S.Rep. at 29. The overall vote dilution inquiry neither requires nor permits an arbitrary rule against consideration of all evidence concerning voting preferences other than statistical evidence of racial voting patterns. Such a rule would give no effect whatever to the Senate Report's repeated emphasis on "intensive racial politics," on "racial political considerations," and on whether "racial politics... dominate the electoral process" as one aspect of the "racial bloc voting" that Congress deemed relevant to showing a § 2 violation. Id. at 33-34. Similarly, I agree with JUSTICE WHITE that JUSTICE BRENNAN's conclusion that the race of the candidate is always irrelevant in identifying racially polarized voting conflicts with Whitcomb, and is not necessary to the disposition of this case. Ante at 83 (concurring).
In this case, as the Court grudgingly acknowledges, the District Court clearly erred in aggregating data from all of the challenged districts, and then relying on the fact that on average, 81.7% of white voters did not vote for any black candidate in the primary elections selected for study. Ante at 478 U. S. 59 -60, n. 28. Although Senate District 22 encompasses House District 36, with that exception the districts at issue in this case are distributed throughout the State of North Carolina. White calls for "an intensely local appraisal of the design and impact of the... multimember district," 412 U.S. at 412 U. S. 769 -770, and racial voting statistics from one district are ordinarily irrelevant in assessing the totality of the circumstances in another district. In view of the specific evidence from each district that the District Court also considered, however, I cannot say that its conclusion that there was severe racial bloc voting was clearly erroneous with regard to any of the challenged districts. Except in House District 23, where racial bloc voting did not prevent sustained and virtually proportional minority electoral success, I would accordingly leave undisturbed the District Court's decision to give great weight to racial bloc voting in each of the challenged districts.
Having made usual, roughly proportional success the sole focus of its vote dilution analysis, the Court goes on to hold that proof that an occasional minority candidate has been elected does not foreclose a § 2 claim. But JUSTICE BRENNAN, joined by JUSTICE WHITE, concludes that "persistent proportional representation" will foreclose a § 2 claim unless the plaintiffs prove that this "sustained success does not accurately reflect the minority group's ability to elect its preferred representatives." Ante at 478 U. S. 77. I agree with JUSTICE BRENNAN that consistent and sustained success by candidates preferred by minority voters is presumptively inconsistent with the existence of a § 2 violation. Moreover, I agree that this case presents no occasion for determining what would constitute proof that such success did not accurately reflect the minority group's actual voting strength in a challenged district or districts.
In my view, the District Court erred in assessing the extent of black electoral success in House District 39 and Senate District 22, as well as in House District 23, where the Court acknowledges error. As the evidence summarized by the Court in table form shows, ante at 82, Appendix B, the degree of black electoral success differed widely in the seven originally contested districts. In House District 8 and Senate District 2, neither of which is contested in this Court, no black candidate had ever been elected to the offices in question. In House District 21 and House District 36, the only instances of black electoral success came in the two most recent elections, one of which took place during the pendency of this litigation. By contrast, in House District 39 and Senate District 22, black successes, although intermittent, dated back to 1974, and a black candidate had been elected in each of these districts in three of the last five elections. Finally, in House District 23 a black candidate had been elected in each of the last six elections.
The District Court, drawing no distinctions among these districts for purposes of its findings, concluded that
[t]he overall results achieved to date at all levels of elective office are minimal in relation to the percentage of blacks in the total population.
590 F.Supp. at 367. The District Court clearly erred to the extent that it considered electoral success in the aggregate, rather than in each of the challenged districts, since, as the Court states, "[t]he inquiry into the existence of vote dilution... is district-specific." Ante at 478 U. S. 59, n. 28. The Court asserts that the District Court was free to regard the results of the 1982 elections with suspicion, and to decide
on the basis of all the relevant circumstances to accord greater weight to blacks' relative lack of success over the course of several recent elections,
ante at 76, but the Court does not explain how this technique would apply in Senate District 22, where a black candidate was elected in three consecutive elections from 1974 to 1978, but no black candidate was elected in 1982, or in House District 39, where black candidates were elected in 1974 and 1976, as well as in 1982. Contrary to what the District Court thought, see 590 F.Supp. at 367, these pre-1982 successes, which were proportional or nearly proportional to black population in these three multimember districts, certainly lend some support for a finding that black voters in these districts enjoy an equal opportunity to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice.
Despite this error, I agree with the Court's conclusion that, except in House District 23, minority electoral success was not sufficiently frequent to compel a finding of equal opportunity to participate and elect. The District Court found that,
in each of the challenged districts, racial polarization in voting presently exists to a substantial or severe degree, and... in each district it presently operates to minimize the voting strength of black voters.
Id. at 372. I cannot say that this finding was clearly erroneous with respect to House District 39 or Senate District 22, particularly when taken together with the District Court's findings concerning the other Zimmer factors, and hence that court's ultimate conclusion of vote dilution in these districts is adequately supported.
This finding, however, is clearly erroneous with respect to House District 23. Blacks constitute 36.3% of the population in that district and 28.6% of the registered voters. In each of the six elections since 1970, one of the three representatives from this district has been a black. There is no finding, or any reason even to suspect, that the successful black candidates in District 23 did not, in fact, represent the interests of black voters, and the District Court did not find that black success in previous elections was aberrant.
Zimmer's caveat against necessarily foreclosing a vote dilution claim on the basis of isolated black successes, 485 F.2d at 1307; see S.Rep. at 29, n. 115, cannot be pressed this far. Indeed, the 23 Court of Appeals decisions on which the Senate Report relied, and which are the best evidence of the scope of this caveat, contain no example of minority electoral success that even remotely approximates the consistent, decade-long pattern in District 23. See, e.g., Turner v. McKeithen, 490 F.2d 191 (CA5 1973) (no black candidates elected); Wallace v. House, 515 F.2d 619 (CA5 1975) (one black candidate elected), vacated on other grounds, 425 U.S. 947 (1976).
I do not propose that consistent and virtually proportional minority electoral success should always, as a matter of law, bar finding a § 2 violation. But, as a general rule, such success is entitled to great weight in evaluating whether a challenged electoral mechanism has, on the totality of the circumstances, operated to deny black voters an equal opportunity to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice. With respect to House District 23, the District Court's failure to accord black electoral success such weight was clearly erroneous, and the District Court identified no reason for not giving this degree of success preclusive effect. Accordingly, I agree with JUSTICE BRENNAN that appellees failed to establish a violation of § 2 in District 23.
When members of a racial minority challenge a multimember district on the grounds that it dilutes their voting strength, I agree with the Court that they must show that they possess such strength and that the multimember district impairs it. A court must therefore appraise the minority group's undiluted voting strength in order to assess the effects of the multimember district. I would reserve the question of the proper method or methods for making this assessment. But once such an assessment is made, in my view the evaluation of an alleged impairment of voting strength requires consideration of the minority group's access to the political processes generally, not solely consideration of the chances that its preferred candidates will actually be elected. Proof that white voters withhold their support from minority-preferred candidates to an extent that consistently ensures their defeat is entitled to significant weight in plaintiffs' favor. However, if plaintiffs direct their proof solely towards the minority group's prospects for electoral success, they must show that substantial minority success will be highly infrequent under the challenged plan in order to establish that the plan operates to "cancel out or minimize" their voting strength. White, 412 U.S. at 412 U. S. 765.
Compromise is essential to much if not most major federal legislation, and confidence that the federal courts will enforce such compromises is indispensable to their creation. I believe that the Court today strikes a different balance than Congress intended to when it codified the results test and disclaimed any right to proportional representation under § 2. For that reason, I join the Court's judgment, but not its opinion.
[ Footnote 2/1 ]
I express no view as to whether the ability of a minority group to constitute a majority in a single-member district should constitute a threshold requirement for a claim that the use of multimember districts impairs the ability of minority voters to participate in the political processes and to elect representatives of their choice. Because the plaintiffs in this case would meet that requirement, if indeed it exists, I need not decide whether it is imposed by § 2. I note, however, the artificiality of the Court's distinction between claims that a minority group's "ability to elect the representatives of [its] choice" has been impaired and claims that "its ability to influence elections" has been impaired. Ante at 478 U. S. 46 -47, n. 12. It is true that a minority group that could constitute a majority in a single-member district ordinarily has the potential ability to elect representatives without white support, and that a minority that could not constitute such a majority ordinarily does not. But the Court recognizes that, when the candidates preferred by a minority group are elected in a multimember district, the minority group has elected those candidates, even if white support was indispensable to these victories. On the same reasoning, if a minority group that is not large enough to constitute a voting majority in a single-member district can show that white support would probably be forthcoming in some such district to an extent that would enable the election of the candidates its members prefer, that minority group would appear to have demonstrated that, at least under this measure of its voting strength, it would be able to elect some candidates of its choice.
[ Footnote 2/2 ]
At times, the District Court seems to have looked to simple proportionality, rather than to hypothetical single-member districts in which black voters would constitute a majority. See, e.g., 590 F.Supp. at 367. Nowhere in its opinion, however, did the District Court state that § 2 requires that minority groups consistently attain the level of electoral success that would correspond with their proportion of the total or voting population.
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