Georgia v. Ashcroft, 539 U.S. 461, 3 (2003)

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Cite as: 539 U. S. 461 (2003)

Syllabus

process. Morris itself recognized the difference between the two. See id., at 503-507. Pp. 476-477.

2. The District Court failed to consider all the relevant factors when it examined whether Georgia's Senate plan resulted in a retrogression of black voters' effective exercise of the electoral franchise. Pp. 477-491.

(a) Georgia's argument that a plan should be precleared under 5 if it would satisfy 2 of the Voting Rights Act, 42 U. S. C. 1973, is rejected. A 2 vote dilution violation is not an independent reason to deny 5 preclearance, because that would inevitably make 5 compliance contingent on 2 compliance and thereby replace 5 retrogression standards with those for 2. Reno v. Bossier Parish School Bd., 520 U. S. 471, 477. Instead of showing that its plan is nondilutive under 2, Georgia must prove that it is nonretrogressive under 5. Pp. 477-479.

(b) To determine the meaning of "a retrogression in the position of racial minorities with respect to their effective exercise of the electoral franchise," Beer, supra, at 141, the statewide plan must first be examined as a whole: First, the diminution of a minority group's effective exercise of the electoral franchise violates 5 only if the State cannot show that the gains in the plan as a whole offset the loss in a particular district. Second, all of the relevant circumstances must be examined, such as minority voters' ability to elect their candidate of choice, the extent of the minority group's opportunity to participate in the political process, and the feasibility of creating a nonretrogressive plan. See, e. g., Johnson v. De Grandy, 512 U. S. 997, 1011-1012, 1020-1021. In assessing the totality of the circumstances, a minority group's comparative ability to elect a candidate of its choice is an important factor, but it cannot be dispositive or exclusive. See, e. g., Thornburg v. Gingles, 478 U. S. 30, 47-50. To maximize such a group's electoral success, a State may choose to create either a certain number of "safe" districts in which it is highly likely that minority voters will be able to elect the candidate of their choice, see, e. g., id., at 48-49, or a greater number of districts in which it is likely, although perhaps not quite as likely as under the benchmark plan, that minority voters will be able to elect their candidates, see, e. g., id., at 88-89 (O'Connor, J., concurring in judgment). Section 5 does not dictate that a State must pick one of these redistricting methods over the other. Id., at 89. In considering the other highly relevant factor in a retrogression inquiry—the extent to which a new plan changes the minority group's opportunity to participate in the political process—a court must examine whether the plan adds or subtracts "influence districts" where minority voters may not be able to elect a candidate of choice but can play a substantial, if not

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