Under § 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 79 Stat. 439, as amended, 42 U. S. C. § 1973c,
The controlling Virginia statutes
The city then proceeded with the Chesterfield case. In May 1969, a compromise line was approved by the city and Chesterfield County and incorporated in a decree of July 12, 1969,
Before and immediately after annexation, the city had a nine-man council, which was elected at large. In 1968, three candidates endorsed by the Crusade for Voters of Richmond, a black civic organization, were elected to the council. In the postannexation, at-large election in 1970, three of the nine members elected had also received the endorsement of the Crusade.
On January 14, 1971, a divided Court in Perkins v. Matthews, supra, held that § 5 of the Voting Rights Act applied to city annexations. On January 28, 1971, the city of Richmond sought the Attorney General's approval of the Chesterfield annexation. On May 7, 1971, after requesting and receiving additional materials from the city, the Attorney General declined to approve the
Meanwhile on February 4, 1971, respondent Curtis Holt brought an action (Holt I) in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, asserting that the annexation denied Richmond Negroes their rights under the Fifteenth Amendment. In November 1971, the District Court ruled in that suit that the annexation had had an illegal racial purpose and ordered a new election of the city council, seven councilmen to be elected at large from the old city and two primarily from the annexed area. Holt v. City of Richmond, 334 F.Supp. 228. The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, sitting en banc, reversed on May 3, 1972, 459 F.2d 1093, cert. denied, 408 U.S. 931 (1972), holding that no Fifteenth Amendment rights were violated, that the city had valid reasons for seeking to annex in 1962, and
On December 9, 1971, Holt began another suit (Holt II) in the Eastern District of Virginia, this time seeking to have the annexation declared invalid under § 5 of the Voting Rights Act for failure to have secured either the approval of the Attorney General or of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. As the result of this litigation, which was stayed pending the outcome of the present suit, further city council elections have been enjoined and the council elected in 1970 has remained in office.
Upon denial of certiorari in Holt I, supra, the Attorney General was again asked to modify his disapproval of the annexation because of the Fourth Circuit's decision that no impermissible purpose had accompanied the annexation and that Fifteenth Amendment rights had not been violated. Receiving no response from the Attorney General, the city filed the present suit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia on August 25, 1972, seeking approval of the annexation and relying on the Fourth Circuit's decision in Holt I. Respondent Holt and the Crusade for Voters intervened.
Shortly thereafter, City of Petersburg v. United States, 354 F.Supp. 1021 (1972), was decided by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. There, the District Court held invalid an annexation by a Virginia city, where at-large council elections were the rule both before and after the annexation, but indicated that approval could be had "on the condition that modifications calculated to neutralize to the extent possible any adverse effect upon the political participation of black voters are adopted, i. e., that the plaintiff shift from an at-large to a ward system of electing its city councilmen." Id., at 1031. We affirmed that judgment. 410 U.S. 962 (1973).
The District Court, 376 F.Supp. 1344 (1974), essentially accepted the findings and conclusions of the Special
The District Court, however, declined to order deannexation, and left the matter of the remedy to be fashioned in Holt II, still pending in the Eastern District of Virginia. We noted probable jurisdiction, 419 U.S. 1067 (1974).
We deal first with whether the annexation involved here had the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote within the contemplation of § 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
In City of Petersburg v. United States, supra, the city sought a declaratory judgment that a proposed annexation satisfied the standards of § 5. Councilmen were elected at large; Negroes made up more than half the population, but less than half the voters; and the area to be annexed contained a heavy white majority. A three-judge District Court for the District of Columbia, although finding no evidence of a racially discriminatory purpose, held that in the context of at-large elections, the annexation would have the effect of denying the right to vote because it would create or perpetuate a white majority in the city and, positing racial voting which was found to be prevalent, it would enhance the power of the white majority totally to exclude Negroes from the city council. The court held, however, that a reduction of a racial group's relative political
The court went on to hold that the effect on the right to vote forbidden by § 5, which had been found to exist in the case, could be cured by a ward plan for electing councilmen in the enlarged city:
The judgment entered by the District Court in the Petersburg case, although refusing the declaratory judgment in the context of at-large elections, retained jurisdiction and directed that "plaintiff prepare a plan for conducting its city council elections in accordance with the requirements of the Voting Rights Act as interpreted by this Court . . . ." Jurisdictional Statement in City of Petersburg v. United States, No. 72-865, O. T. 1972, p. 25a. In its appeal, the city presented the question, among others, whether the District Court was correct in conditioning approval of the annexation upon the adoption of the plan to elect councilmen by wards. We affirmed the judgment without opinion. 410 U.S. 962 (1973).
Petersburg was correctly decided. On the facts there presented, the annexation of an area with a white majority, combined with at-large councilmanic elections and racial voting, created or enhanced the power of the white majority to exclude Negroes totally from participation in the governing of the city through membership on the city council. We agreed, however, that that consequence would be satisfactorily obviated if at-large elections were replaced by a ward system of choosing councilmen. It is our view that a fairly designed ward plan in such circumstances would not only prevent the total exclusion of Negroes from membership on the council but would afford them representation reasonably equivalent to their political strength in the enlarged community.
We cannot accept the position that such a single-member ward system would nevertheless have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote because Negroes
As long as this is true, we cannot hold that the effect of the annexation is to deny or abridge the right to vote. To hold otherwise would be either to forbid all such annexations or to require, as the price for approval of the annexation, that the black community be assigned the same proportion of council seats as before, hence perhaps permanently overrepresenting them and underrepresenting other elements in the community, including the nonblack citizens in the annexed area. We are unwilling to hold that Congress intended either consequence in enacting § 5.
We are also convinced that the annexation now before us, in the context of the ward system of election finally proposed by the city and then agreed to by the United
The foregoing principles should govern the application of § 5 insofar as it forbids changes in voting procedures having the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on the grounds of race or color. But the section also proscribes changes that are made with the purpose of denying the right to vote on such grounds. The District Court concluded that when the annexation eventually approved in 1969 took place, it was adopted by the city with a discriminatory racial purpose, the precise purpose prohibited by § 5, and that to purge itself of that purpose the city was required to prove two factors, neither of which had been successfully or satisfactorily shown: (1) that the city had some objectively verifiable, legitimate purpose for the annexation at the time of adopting the ward system of electing councilmen in 1973; and (2) that "the ward plan not only reduced, but also effectively eliminated, the dilution of black voting power caused by the annexation . . . ." 376 F. Supp., at 1353 (footnote omitted). The Master's findings were
The requirement that the city allocate to the Negro community in the larger city the voting power or the seats on the city council in excess of its proportion in the new community and thus permanently to underrepresent other elements in the community is fundamentally at odds with the position we have expressed earlier in this opinion, and we cannot approve treating the failure to satisfy it as evidence of any purpose proscribed by § 5.
Accepting the findings of the Master in the District Court that the annexation, as it went forward in 1969, was infected by the impermissible purpose of denying the right to vote based on race through perpetuating white majority power to exclude Negroes from office through at-large elections,
We need not determine this matter now, however; for if, as we have made clear, the controlling factor in this case is whether there are now objectively verifiable, legitimate reasons for the annexation, we agree with the United States that further proceedings are necessary to bring up to date and reassess the evidence bearing on the issue. We are not satisfied that the Special Master and the District Court gave adequate consideration to the evidence in this case in deciding whether there are now justifiable reasons for the annexation which took place on January 1, 1970. The special, three-judge court of the State of Virginia made the annexation award, giving great weight to the compromise agreement, but nevertheless finding that "Richmond is entitled to some annexation in this case. . . . Obviously cities must in some manner be permitted to grow in territory and population or they will face disastrous economic and social problems." 1 App. 42. The court went on to find that the annexation met all of the "requirements of necessity and, most important of all, expediency," id., at 47, expediency in the sense that it is " `advantageous' and in furtherance of the policy of the State that `urban areas should be under urban government and rural areas under county government.' " Id., at 44.
In Holt I, where the annexation was attacked under the Fifteenth Amendment as being a purposeful plan to deprive black citizens of their constitutional right to vote without discrimination on grounds of race, the Court
In the present case the District Court stated that it had no doubt that "Richmond's leadership was motivated in 1962 by nondiscriminatory goals in filing its 1962 annexation suit," 376 F. Supp., at 1354 n. 52, but went on to accept the Master's findings that the annexed area was a financial burden to the city and that there were no administrative or other advantages justifying the annexation. As for the contrary evidence in the record, the District Court asserted that "[t]hese evidentiary references to Holt were, of course, considered by the Master in making his findings," and summarily concluded, without discussion, that the contrary evidence did not "persuade us that the Master's findings are wrong, nor do they dissipate the evidence of illegal purpose which permeates this record." Id., at 1354 (footnote omitted).
In making his findings, however, it appears to us that the Special Master may have relied solely on the testimony of the county administrator of Chesterfield County who had opposed any annexation and was an obviously interested witness. At least there is no indication from the Special Master's findings or conclusions that he gave any attention to the contrary evidence in the record.
We have held that an annexation reducing the relative political strength of the minority race in the enlarged city as compared with what it was before the annexation is not a statutory violation as long as the post-annexation electoral system fairly recognizes the minority's political potential. If this is so, it may be asked how it could be forbidden by § 5 to have the purpose and intent of achieving only what is a perfectly legal result under that section and why we need remand for further proceedings with respect to purpose alone. The answer is plain, and we need not labor it. An official action, whether an annexation or otherwise, taken for the purpose of discriminating against Negroes on account of their race has no legitimacy at all under our Constitution or under the statute. Section 5 forbids voting changes taken with the purpose of denying the vote on the grounds of race or color. Congress surely has the power to prevent such gross racial slurs, the only point of which is "to despoil colored citizens, and only colored citizens, of their theretofore enjoyed voting rights." Gomillion v. Lightfoot, 364 U.S. 339, 347 (1960). Annexations animated by such a purpose have no credentials whatsoever;
The judgment of the District Court is vacated and the case is remanded to that court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
MR. JUSTICE POWELL took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN, with whom MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS and MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL join, dissenting.
The District Court, applying proper legal standards, found that the city of Richmond had failed to prove that its annexation of portions of Chesterfield County, Va., on January 1, 1970, had neither the purpose nor the effect of abridging or diluting the voting rights of Richmond's black citizens. I believe that that finding, far from being clearly erroneous, was amply supported by the record below, and that the District Court properly denied the declaratory judgment sought by Richmond. I therefore dissent.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965
In short, Congress, through the Voting Rights Act of 1965, imposed a stringent and comprehensive set of controls upon States falling within the Act's coverage. We have heretofore held that the language of § 5 was designed "to give the Act the broadest possible scope," and to require "that all changes, no matter how small, be subjected to § 5 scrutiny," Allen v. State Board of Elections, 393 U.S. 544, 567-568 (1969); we have thus applied § 5 to legislative reapportionments, annexations, and any other state actions which may potentially abridge or dilute voting rights. Id., at 569-571; Georgia v. United States, 411 U.S. 526 (1973); Perkins v. Matthews, 400 U.S. 379 (1971).
The frontline judicial responsibility for interpreting and applying the substantive standards of § 5 rests exclusively with the United States District Court for the District of Columbia,
In my view, the flagrantly discriminatory purpose with which Richmond hastily settled its Chesterfield County annexation suit in 1969 compelled the District Court to deny Richmond the declaratory judgment. The record is replete with statements by Richmond officials which prove beyond question that the predominant (if not the sole) motive and desire of the negotiators of the 1969 settlement was to acquire 44,000 additional white citizens for Richmond, in order to avert a transfer of political control to what was fast becoming a black-population majority.
Having succeeded in this patently discriminatory enterprise, Richmond now argues that it can purge the taint of its impermissible purpose by dredging up supposed objective justifications for the annexation and by replacing its practice of at-large councilmanic elections with a ward-voting system. The implications of the proposed ward-voting system are discussed in Part III, infra; meanwhile, I have grave difficulty with the idea that the taint of an illegal purpose can, under § 5, be dispelled by the sort of post hoc rationalization which the city now offers.
The court below noted that Richmond, in initiating annexation proceedings in 1962, was motivated "by legitimate goals of urban expansion." 376 F. Supp., at 1351. By 1969, however, those legitimate goals had been pushed into the background by the unseemly haste of the white political establishment to protect and solidify its position of power. The District Court's findings quoted above fully establish that the 1969 settlement of Richmond's annexation suit was negotiated in an atmosphere totally devoid of any concern for economic or administrative issues; the city's own Boundary Expansion Coordinator was not even consulted about the financial or geographical implications of the so-called Horner-Bagley line until several weeks after the line had been drawn.
To hold that an annexation agreement reached under such circumstances can be validated by objective economic justifications offered many years after the fact, in my view, wholly negates the prophylactic purpose of § 5.
The District Court, adopting the findings of the Master whom it had appointed under Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 53, squarely held that Richmond " `has failed to establish any counterbalancing economic or administrative benefits of the annexation.' " 376 F. Supp., at 1353. The
Federal Rule Civ. Proc. 52 (a) compels us to accept that finding unless it can be called clearly erroneous. I find it impossible, on this record, to attach that label to the findings below, and indeed, the Court never goes so far as to do so. Nevertheless, in apparent disagreement with the manner in which conflicting evidence was weighed and resolved by the lower court, the Court remands for further evidentiary proceedings, perhaps in hopes that a re-evaluation of the evidence will produce a more acceptable result. This course of action is to me wholly inconsistent with the proper role of an appellate court operating under the strictures of Rule 52 (a).
The second prong of any § 5 inquiry is whether the voting change under consideration will have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of
The guidelines of this discussion in Perkins were correctly applied by the District Court, which continued as follows:
Measured against these standards, the dilutive effect of Richmond's annexation is clear, both as a matter of semantics and as a matter of political realities. Blacks constituted 52% of the preannexation population and 44.8% of the preannexation voting-age population in
The history of the Voting Rights Act, as set forth in Part I, supra, discloses the intent of Congress to impose a stringent system of controls upon changes in state voting practices in order to thwart even the most subtle attempts to dilute black voting rights. We have elsewhere described the Act as "an unusual, and in some aspects a severe, procedure for insuring that States would not discriminate on the basis of race in the enforcement of their voting laws."
Today's decision seriously weakens the protection so emphatically accorded by the Act. Municipal politicians who are fearful of losing their political control to emerging black voting majorities are today placed on notice that their control can be made secure as long as they can find concentrations of white citizens into which to expand their municipal boundaries. Richmond's black population, having finally begun to approach an opportunity to elect responsive officials and to have a significant voice in the conduct of its municipal affairs, now finds its voting strength reduced by a plan which "guarantees"
It may be true, as the Court suggests, that this interpretation would effectively preclude some cities from undertaking desperately needed programs of expansion and annexation. Certainly there is nothing in § 5 which suggests that black voters could or should be given a disproportionately high share of the voting power in a postannexation community; where the racial composition of an annexed area is substantially different from that of the annexing area, it may well be impossible to protect preannexation black voting strength without invidiously diluting the voting strength of other racial groups in the community. I see no reason to assume that the "demographics" of the situation are such that this would be an insuperable problem for all or even most cities covered by the Act; but in any event, if there is to be a "municipal hardship" exception for annexations vis-à-vis § 5, that exception should originate with Congress and not with the courts.
At the very least, therefore, I would adopt the Petersburg standard relied upon by the District Court, namely, that the dilutive effect of an annexation of this sort can
More than five years have elapsed since the last municipal elections were held in Richmond.
"Whenever a State or political subdivision with respect to which the prohibitions set forth in section 1973b (a) based upon determinations made under the first sentence of section 1973b (b) of this title are in effect shall enact or seek to administer any voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure with respect to voting different from that in force or effect on November 1, 1964, or whenever a State or political subdivision with respect to which the prohibitions set forth in section 1973b (a) of this title based upon determinations made under the second sentence of section 1973b (b) of this title are in effect shall enact or seek to administer any voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure with respect to voting different from that in force or effect on November 1, 1968, such State or subdivision may institute an action in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia for a declaratory judgment that such qualification, prerequisite, standard, practice, or procedure does not have the purpose and will not have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color, and unless and until the court enters such judgment no person shall be denied the right to vote for failure to comply with such qualification, prerequisite, standard, practice, or procedure: Provided, That such qualification, prerequisite, standard, practice, or procedure may be enforced without such proceeding if the qualification, prerequisite, standard, practice, or procedure has been submitted by the chief legal officer or other appropriate official of such State or subdivision to the Attorney General and the Attorney General has not interposed an objection within sixty days after such submission, except that neither the Attorney General's failure to object nor a declaratory judgment entered under this section shall bar a subsequent action to enjoin enforcement of such qualification, prerequisite, standard, practice, or procedure. Any action under this section shall be heard and determined by a court of three judges in accordance with the provisions of section 2284 of Title 28 and any appeal shall lie to the Supreme Court."
"We believe that the evidence in the record would support a finding that the City has objectively verifiable, legitimate reasons for retaining the annexed area. However, the parties at trial did not directly litigate that question. The parties, including the federal parties, concentrated on the extent to which the City's ward plan minimized the dilutive effects of the annexation, i. e., on the permissibility of the effect of the voting change under City of Petersburg, and not on the nondiscriminatory purposes that might justify retention of the annexed area. Thus the City did not develop and present all its evidence relating to such purposes, and the intervening defendants have not had a full opportunity to rebut such evidence." Id., at 34-35.
Given this position of the United States, we conclude that Holt I should not be given estoppel effect in this case.
"In 1961 there were compelling reasons for annexation of portions of Chesterfield County. Negroes were then a minority in Richmond and no one was then thinking in terms of a possible cleavage between black and white voters. Race was not a factor in the decision to seek annexation. Indeed, the finding was that, without the settlement agreement, the annexation court would have awarded more territory, and a larger preponderance of white voters, to Richmond.
"The District Court recognized, however, that there was no racial motivation in the institution of the annexation proceeding or in its prosecution. If some members of Richmond's governing body had developed a sense of urgency because of the growing number of black voters and their supposed opposition to any annexation and the election of `Richmond Forward' candidates, no such thoughts were believed to have infected the minds of the judges of the annexation court. In fact, the District Court found that annexation rested upon such firm non-racial grounds that it was necessary, expedient and inevitable."