Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections

United States Supreme Court

March 1, 2017

GOLDEN BETHUNE-HILL, ET AL., APPELLANTS
v.
VIRGINIA STATE BOARD OF ELECTIONS, ET AL.

          Argued December 5, 2016

         ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF VIRGINA No. 15-680.

         After the 2010 census, the Virginia State Legislature drew new lines for 12 state legislative districts, with a goal of ensuring that each district would have a black voting-age population (BVAP) of at least 55%. Certain voters filed suit, claiming that the new districts violated the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. State legislative officials (State) intervened to defend the plan. A three-judge District Court rejected the challenges. As to 11 of the districts, the court concluded that the voters had not shown, as this Court's precedent requires, "that race was the predominant factor motivating the legislature's decision to place a significant number of voters within or without a particular district, " Miller v. Johnson, 515 U.S. 900, 916. In so doing, the court held that race predominates only where there is an " 'actual conflict between traditional redistricting criteria and race.' " 141 F.Supp.3d 505, 524. It thus confined the predominance analysis to the portions of the new lines that appeared to deviate from traditional criteria. As to the remaining district, District 75, the court found that race did predominate, but that the lines were constitutional because the legislature's use of race was narrowly tailored to a compelling state interest. In particular, the court found the legislature had good reasons to believe that a 55% racial target was necessary in District 75 to avoid diminishing the ability of black voters to elect their preferred candidates, which at the time would have violated §5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, see Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama, 575 U.S.__, __.

         Held:

1. The District Court employed an incorrect legal standard in determining that race did not predominate in 11 of the 12 districts.

Pp. 6-13.

(a) The Equal Protection Clause prohibits a State, without sufficient justification, from "separating] its citizens into different voting districts on the basis of race." Miller, 515 U.S., at 911. Courts must "exercise extraordinary caution in adjudicating claims" of racial gerrymandering, id., at 916, since a legislature is always "aware of race when it draws district lines, just as it is aware of . . . other demographic factors, " Shaw v. Reno, 509 U.S. 630, 646 (Shaw I). A plaintiff alleging racial gerrymandering thus bears the burden "to show, either through circumstantial evidence of a district's shape and demographics or more direct evidence going to legislative purpose, that race was the predominant factor motivating the legislature's [districting] decision, " which requires proving "that the legislature subordinated traditional race-neutral districting principles ... to racial considerations." Miller, supra, at 916. Here, the District Court misapplied controlling law in two principal ways. Pp. 6-7.
(b) First, the District Court misunderstood relevant precedents when it required the challengers to establish, as a prerequisite to showing racial predominance, an actual conflict between the enacted plan and traditional redistricting principles. This Court has made clear that parties may show predominance "either through circumstantial evidence of a district's shape and demographics or more direct evidence going to legislative purpose, " Miller, supra, at 916, and that race may predominate even when a plan respects traditional principles, Shaw v. Hunt, 517 U.S. 899, 907 (Shaw II).
The State's theory in this case is irreconcilable with Miller and Shaw II. The State insists, e.g., that the harm from racial gerrymandering lies not in racial line-drawing per se but in grouping voters of the same race together when they otherwise lack shared interests. But "the constitutional violation" in racial gerrymandering cases stems from the "racial purpose of state action, not its stark manifestation." Miller, supra, at 913. The State also contends that race does not have a prohibited effect on a district's lines if the legislature could have drawn the same lines in accordance with traditional criteria. The proper inquiry, however, concerns the actual considerations that provided the essential basis for the lines drawn, not post hoc justifications that the legislature could have used but did not. A legislature could construct a plethora of potential maps that look consistent with traditional, race-neutral principles, but if race is the overriding reason for choosing one map over others, race still may predominate. A conflict or inconsistency may be persuasive circumstantial evidence tending to show racial predomination, but no rule requires challengers to present this kind of evidence in every case. As a practical matter, this kind of evidence may be necessary in many or even most cases. But there may be cases where challengers can establish racial predominance without evidence of an actual conflict. Pp. 7-11.
(c) The District Court also erred in considering the legislature's racial motive only to the extent that the challengers identified deviations from traditional redistricting criteria attributable to race and not to some other factor. Racial gerrymandering claims proceed "district-by-district, " Alabama, supra, at, and courts should not divorce any portion of a district's lines-whatever their relationship to traditional principles-from the rest of the district. Courts may consider evidence pertaining to an area that is larger or smaller than the district at issue. But the ultimate object of the inquiry is the legislature's predominant motive for the district's design as a whole, and any explanation for a particular portion of the lines must take account of the districtwide context. A holistic analysis is necessary to give the proper weight to districtwide evidence, such as stark splits in the racial composition of populations moved into and out of a district, or the use of a racial target. Pp. 11-12.
(d) The District Court is best positioned to determine on remand the extent to which, under the proper standard, race directed the shape of these 11 districts, and if race did predominate, whether strict scrutiny is satisfied. Pp. 12-13.
2. The District Court's judgment regarding District 75 is consistent with the basic narrow tailoring analysis explained in Alabama. Where a challenger succeeds in establishing racial predominance, the burden shifts to the State to "demonstrate that its districting legislation is narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling interest." Miller, supra, at 920. Here, it is assumed that the State's interest in complying with the Voting Rights Act was a compelling interest. When a State justifies the predominant use of race in redistricting on the basis of the need to comply with the Voting Rights Act, "the narrow tailoring requirement insists only that the legislature have a 'strong basis in evidence' in support of the (race-based) choice that it has made." Alabama, 575 U.S., at __-__. The State must show not that its action was actually necessary to avoid a statutory violation, but only that the legislature had " 'good reasons to believe'" its use of race was needed in order to satisfy the Voting Rights Act. Ibid. There was no error in the District Court's conclusion that the legislature had sufficient grounds to determine that the race-based calculus it employed in District 75 was necessary to avoid violating §5. Under the facts found by that court, the legislature performed the kind of functional analysis of District 75 necessary under §5, and the result reflected the good-faith efforts of legislators to achieve an informed bipartisan consensus. In contesting the sufficiency of that evidence and the evidence justifying the 55% BVAP floor, the challengers ask too much from state officials charged with the sensitive duty of reapportioning legislative districts. As to the claim that the BVAP floor is akin to the "mechanically numerical view" of §5 rejected in Alabama, supra, at__, the record here supports the State's conclusion that this was an instance where a 55% BVAP was necessary for black voters to have a functional working majority. Pp. 13-16.

141 F.Supp.3d 505, affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded.

          OPINION

          KENNEDY, J.

         This case addresses whether the Virginia state legislature's consideration of race in drawing new lines for 12 state legislative districts violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. After the 2010 census, some redistricting was required to ensure proper numerical apportionment for the Virginia House of Delegates. It is undisputed that the boundary lines for the 12 districts at issue were drawn with a goal of ensuring that each district would have a black voting-age population (BVAP) of at least 55%.

         Certain voters challenged the new districts as unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, constituted as a three-judge district court, rejected the challenges as to each of the 12 districts. As to 11 of the districts, the District Court concluded that the voters had not shown, as this Court's precedent requires, "that race was the predominant factor motivating the legislature's decision to place a significant number of voters within or without a particular district." Miller v. Johnson, 515 U.S. 900, 916 (1995). The District Court held that race predominates only where there is an "'actual conflict between traditional redistricting criteria and race, '" 141 F.Supp.3d 505, 524 (ED Va. 2015), so it confined the predominance analysis to the portions of the new lines that appeared to deviate from traditional criteria, and found no violation. As to the remaining district, District 75, the District Court found that race did predominate. It concluded, however, that the lines were constitutional because the legislature's use of race was narrowly tailored to a compelling state interest. In particular, the District Court determined that the legislature had "good reasons to believe" that a 55% racial target was necessary in District 75 to avoid diminishing the ability of black voters to elect their preferred candidates, which at the time would have violated §5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama, 575 U.S.__, __ (2015) (slip op., at 22) (internal quotation marks omitted and emphasis deleted).

         On appeal to this Court, the challengers contend that the District Court employed an incorrect legal standard for racial predominance and that the legislature lacked good reasons for its use of race in District 75. This Court now affirms as to District 75 and vacates and remands as to the remaining 11 districts.

         I

         After the 2010 census, the Virginia General Assembly set out to redraw the legislative districts for the State Senate and House of Delegates in time for the 2011 elections. In February 2011, the House Committee on Privileges and Elections adopted a resolution establishing criteria to guide the redistricting process. Among those criteria were traditional redistricting factors such as compactness, contiguity of territory, and respect for communities of interest. But above those traditional objec- tives, the committee gave priority to two other goals. First, in accordance with the principle of one person, one vote, the committee resolved that "[t]he population of each district shall be as nearly equal to the population of every other district as practicable, " with any deviations falling "within plus-or-minus one percent." 141 F.Supp.3d, at 518. Second, the committee resolved that the new map must comply with the "protections against . . . unwarranted retrogression" contained in §5 of the Voting Rights Act. Ibid. At the time, §5 required covered jurisdictions, including Virginia, to preclear any change to a voting standard, practice, or procedure by showing federal authorities that the change would not have the purpose or effect of "diminishing the ability of [members of a minority group] to elect their preferred candidates of choice." §5, 120 Stat. 580-581, 52 U.S.C. §10304(b). After the redistricting process here was completed, this Court held that the coverage formula in §4(b) of the Voting Rights Act no longer may be used to require preclearance under §5. See Shelby County v. Holder, 570 U.S.__, __ (2013) (slip op., at 24).

         The committee's criteria presented potential problems for 12 House districts. Under §5 as Congress amended it in 2005, "[a] plan leads to impermissible retrogression when, compared to the plan currently in effect (typically called a "benchmark plan'), the new plan diminishes the number of districts in which minority groups can 'elect their preferred candidates of choice' (often called 'ability-to-elect' districts)." Harris v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Comm'n, 578 U.S., __, __-__ (2016) (slip op., at 5-6) (quoting 52 U.S.C. § 10304(b)). The parties agree that the 12 districts at issue here, where minorities had constituted a majority of the voting-age population for many past elections, qualified as "ability-to-elect" districts. Most of the districts were underpopulated, however, so any new plan required moving significant numbers of new voters into these districts in order to comply with the principle of one person, one vote. Under the benchmark plan, the districts had BVAPs ranging from 62.7% down to 46.3%. Three districts had BVAPs below 55%.

         Seeking to maintain minority voters' ability to elect their preferred candidates in these districts while complying with the one-person, one-vote criterion, legislators concluded that each of the 12 districts "needed to contain a BVAP of at least 55%." 141 F.Supp.3d, at 519. At trial, the parties disputed whether the 55% figure "was an aspiration or a target or a rule." Ibid. But they did not dispute "the most important question-whether [the 55%] figure was used in drawing the Challenged Districts." Ibid. The parties agreed, and the District Court found, "that the 55% BVAP figure was used in structuring the districts." Ibid. In the enacted plan all 12 districts contained a BVAP greater than 55%.

         Who first suggested the 55% BVAP criterion and how the legislators agreed upon it was less clear from the evidence. See id., at 521 (describing the "[t]estimony on this question" as "a muddle"). In the end, the District Court found that the 55% criterion emerged from discussions among certain members of the House Black Caucus and the leader of the re districting effort in the House, Delegate Chris Jones, "based largely on concerns pertaining to the re-election of Delegate Tyler in [District] 75." Id., at 522. The 55% figure "was then applied across the board to all twelve" districts. Ibid.

         In April 2011, the General Assembly passed Delegate Jones' plan with broad support from both parties and members of the Black Caucus. One of only two dissenting members of the Black Caucus was Delegate Tyler of District 75, who objected solely on the ground that the 55.4% BVAP in her district was too low. In June 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice precleared the plan.

         Three years later, before this suit was filed, a separate District Court struck down Virginia's third federal congressional district (not at issue here), based in part on the legislature's use of a 55% BVAP threshold. See Page v. Virginia State Bd. of Elections, 58 F.Supp.3d 533, 553 (ED Va. 2014), vacated and remanded sub nom. Cantor v. Personhuballah, 575 U.S. __ (2015), judgt. entered sub nom. Page v. Virginia State Bd. of Elections, 2015 WL 3604029 (June 5, 2015), appeal dism'd sub nom. Wittman v. Personhuballah, 578 U.S. __ (2016). After that decision, 12 voters registered in the 12 districts here at issue filed this action challenging the district lines under the Equal Protection Clause. Because the claims "challeng[ed] the constitutionality of . . . the apportionment of [a] statewide legislative body, " the case was heard by a three-judge District Court. 28 U.S.C. §2284(a). The Virginia House of Delegates and its Speaker, William Howell (together referred to hereinafter as the State), intervened and assumed responsibility for defending the plan, both before the District Court and now before this Court.

         After a 4-day bench trial, a divided District Court ruled for the State. With respect to each challenged district, the court first assessed whether "racial considerations predominated over-or 'subordinated'-traditional redisricting criteria." 141 F.Supp.3d, at 523. An essential premise of the majority opinion was that race does not predominate unless there is an "actual conflict between traditional redistricting criteria and race that leads to the subordination of the former." Id., at 524. To implement that standard, moreover, the court limited its inquiry into racial motive to those portions of the district lines that appeared to deviate from traditional criteria. The court thus "examine[d] those aspects of the [district] that appeared] to constitute 'deviations' from neutral criteria" to ascertain whether the deviations were attributable to race or to other considerations, "such as protection of incumbents." Id., at 533-534. Only if the court found a deviation attributable to race did it proceed to "determine whether racial considerations qualitatively subordinated all other non-racial districting criteria." Ibid. Under that analysis, the court found that race did not predominate in 11 of the 12 districts.

         When it turned to District 75, the District Court found that race did predominate. The court reasoned that "[a]chieving a 55% BVAP floor required 'drastic maneuvering' that is reflected on the face of the district." Id., at 557. Applying strict scrutiny, the court held that compliance with §5 was a compelling state interest and that the legislature's consideration of race in District 75 was narrowly tailored. As to narrow tailoring, the court explained that the State had "a strong basis in evidence" to believe that its actions were "reasonably necessary" to avoid retrogression. Id., at 548. In particular, the court found that Delegate Jones had considered "precisely the kinds of evidence that legislators are encouraged to use" in achieving compliance with §5, including turnout rates, the district's large disenfranchised prison population, and voting patterns in the contested 2005 primary and general elections. Id., at 558.

         Judge Keenan dissented as to all 12 districts. She concluded that the majority applied an incorrect understanding of racial predominance and that Delegate Jones' analysis of District 75 was too "general and conclusory." Id., at 578. This appeal followed, and probable ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.