Reno, Attorney General v. Bossier Parish School Board et al.
Decided on May 21, 1997; 520 US 471


A. Issues Discussed: Voting Rights Act of 1965

B. Legal Question Presented:

Must preclearance be denied under Section (§) 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 whenever a covered jurisdiction’s new voting “standard, practice, or procedure” violates §2? And is evidence that a new “standard, practice, or procedure” has a dilutive impact always irrelevant to the inquiry whether the covered jurisdiction acted with “the purpose... of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color” under §5?


A. Background:

"Appellee Bossier Parrish School Board (Board) is subject to the preclearance requirements of §5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (Act) and must therefore obtain the approval of either the United States Attorney General or the United States District Court for the District of Columbia before implementing any changes to a voting 'qualification, prerequisite, standard, practice, or procedure.'

Based on the 1990 census, the Board redrew its 12 single member districts, adopting the redistricting plan that the Attorney General had recently precleared for use in elections of the parish's primary governing body (the Jury plan). In doing so, the Board rejected a plan proposed by the NAACP, which would have created two majority black districts.

The Attorney General objected to preclearance, finding that the NAACP plan, which had not been available when the Jury plan was originally approved, demonstrated that black residents were sufficiently numerous and geographically compact to constitute a majority in two districts; that, compared with this alternative, the Board's plan unnecessarily limited the opportunity for minority voters to elect their candidates of choice and thereby diluted their voting strength in violation of §2 of the Act; and that the Attorney General must withhold preclearance where necessary to prevent a clear §2 violation.

The Board then filed this action with the District Court, and appellant Price and others intervened as defendants. A three judge panel granted the preclearance request, rejecting appellants' contention that a voting change's failure to satisfy §2 constituted an independent reason to deny preclearance under §5 and their related argument that a court must still consider evidence of a §2 violation as evidence of discriminatory purpose under §5."

On appeal the US Supreme Court vacated and remanded the judgment of the US District Court for the District of Columbia.

B. Counsel of Record:
Opposing Side
Unavailable Unavailable
C. The Arguments:
Opposing Side
Unavailable Unavailable
Opposing Side
Assistant Attorney General Patrick argued the cause for appellant in No. 95–1455. With him on the briefs were Acting Solicitor General Dellinger, Deputy Solicitor General Bender, Cornelia T. L. Pillard, David K. Flynn, and Steven H. Rosenbaum. John W. Borkowski argued the cause for appellants in No. 95–1508. With him on the briefs were Walter A. Smith, Jr., Patricia A. Brannan, Barbara R. Arnwine, Thomas J. Henderson, Brenda Wright, and Samuel L. Walters.

Laughlin McDonald, Neil Bradley, Steven R. Shapiro, Elaine R. Jones, Norman J. Chachkin, and Jacqueline Berrien filed a brief for the American Civil Liberties Union et al. as amici curiae urging reversal.

Michael A. Carvin argued the cause for appellee Bossier Parish School Board in both cases. With him on the brief were David H. Thompson, James J. Thornton, and Michael P. McDonald. Sharon L. Browne and Deborah J. La Fetra filed a brief for the Pacific Legal Foundation as amicus curiae urging affirmance.


"Preclearance under §5 may not be denied solely on the basis that a covered jurisdiction's new voting 'standard, practice, or procedure' violates §2... Section 5 freezes election procedures in a covered jurisdiction until that jurisdiction proves that its proposed changes do not have the purpose, and will not have the effect, of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race. It is designed to combat only those effects that are retrogressive...

Section 2, on the other hand, applies in all jurisdictions and uses as its benchmark for comparison in vote dilution claims a hypothetical, undiluted plan. Making compliance with §5 contingent upon compliance with §2, as appellants urge, would, for all intents and purposes, replace the standards for §5 with those for §2, thus contradicting more than 20 years of precedent interpreting §5...

Evidence showing that a jurisdiction's redistricting plan dilutes minorities' voting power may be relevant to establish a jurisdiction's 'intent to retrogress' under §5... [but] because this Court cannot say with confidence that the District Court considered the evidence proffered to show that the Board's reapportionment plan was dilutive, this aspect of that court's holding must be vacated.

Section 2 evidence may be 'relevant' within the meaning of Federal Rule of Evidence 401, for the fact that a plan has a dilutive impact makes it 'more probable' that the jurisdiction adopting that plan acted with an intent to retrogress than 'it would be without the evidence.' This does not, of course, mean that evidence of a plan's dilutive impact is dispositive of the §5 purpose inquiry. Indeed, if it were, §2 would be effectively incorporated into §5, a result this Court finds unsatisfactory...

This Court is unable to determine whether the District Court deemed irrelevant all evidence of the dilutive impact of the redistricting plan adopted by the Board... The District Court will have the opportunity... on remand... to address appellants' additional arguments that it erred in refusing to consider evidence that the Board was in violation of an ongoing injunction to remedy any remaining vestiges of a dual school system."

The US Supreme Court vacated and remanded the judgment of the US District Court for the District of Columbia.

Justice Vote: 2 Pro vs. 7 Con

  • O'Connor, S. Con (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Rehnquist, W. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Breyer, S. Con (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Ginsburg, R. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Kennedy, A. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Scalia, A. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Thomas, C. Con (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Stevens, J. Pro (Wrote opinion dissenting in part, concurring in part)
  • Souter, D. Pro (Joined Stevens' opinion)

    The ACLU, as amicus curiae, urged reversal of the Supreme Court of the US District Court for the District of Columbia's judgment; the Supreme Court vacated and remanded in a 7-2 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent loss.