JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.
The issue in this case is whether the at-large system of elections in Burke County, Ga., violates the Fourteenth Amendment rights of Burke County's black citizens.
Burke County is a large, predominately rural county located in eastern Georgia. Eight hundred and thirty-one square miles in area,
The Burke County Board of Commissioners governs the county. It was created in 1911, see 1911 Ga. Laws 310-311, and consists of five members elected at large to concurrent 4-year terms by all qualified voters in the county. The county has never been divided into districts, either for the purpose of imposing a residency requirement on candidates or for the purpose of requiring candidates to be elected by voters residing in a district. In order to be nominated or elected, a candidate must receive a majority of the votes cast in the primary or general election, and a runoff must be held if no candidate receives a majority in the first primary or general election. Ga. Code § 34-1513 (Supp. 1980). Each candidate must run for a specific seat on the Board, Ga. Code § 34-1015 (1978), and a voter may vote only once for any candidate. No Negro has ever been elected to the Burke County Board of Commissioners.
Appellees, eight black citizens of Burke County, filed this suit in 1976 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia. The suit was brought on behalf of all black citizens in Burke County. The class was certified in 1977. The complaint alleged that the county's system of at-large elections violates appellees' First, Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendment rights, as well as their rights under 42 U. S. C. §§ 1971, 1973, and 1983, by diluting the voting power of black citizens. Following a bench trial at which both sides introduced extensive evidence, the court issued an order on September 29, 1978, stating that appellees were entitled to prevail and ordering that Burke County be
The Court of Appeals affirmed. Lodge v. Buxton, 639 F.2d 1358 (CA5 1981). It stated that while the proceedings in the District Court took place prior to the decision in Mobile v. Bolden, 446 U.S. 55 (1980), the District Court correctly anticipated Mobile and required appellees to prove that the at-large voting system was maintained for a discriminatory purpose. 639 F. 2d, at 1375-1376. The Court of Appeals also held that the District Court's findings were not clearly erroneous, and that its conclusion that the at-large system was maintained for invidious purposes was "virtually mandated by the overwhelming proof." Id., at 1380. We noted probable jurisdiction, 454 U.S. 811 (1981), and now affirm.
At-large voting schemes and multimember districts tend to minimize the voting strength of minority groups by permitting the political majority to elect all representatives of the district. A distinct minority, whether it be a racial, ethnic, economic, or political group, may be unable to elect any representatives in an at-large election, yet may be able to elect several representatives if the political unit is divided into single-member districts. The minority's voting power in a multimember district is particularly diluted when bloc voting occurs and ballots are cast along strict majority-minority lines. While multimember districts have been challenged for
In Mobile v. Bolden, supra, the Court was called upon to apply these principles to the at-large election system in Mobile, Ala. Mobile is governed by three commissioners who exercise all legislative, executive, and administrative power in the municipality. 446 U. S., at 59. Each candidate for the City Commission runs for one of three numbered posts in an at-large election and can only be elected by a majority vote. Id., at 59-60. Plaintiffs brought a class action on behalf of all Negro citizens of Mobile alleging that the at-large scheme diluted their voting strength in violation of several statutory and constitutional provisions. The District Court concluded that the at-large system "violates the constitutional rights of the plaintiffs by improperly restricting their access to the political process," Bolden v. Mobile, 423 F.Supp. 384, 399 (SD Ala. 1976), and ordered that the commission form of government be replaced by a mayor and a nine-member City Council elected from single-member districts. Id., at 404. The Court of Appeals affirmed. 571 F.2d 238 (CA5 1978). This Court reversed.
Justice Stewart, writing for himself and three other Justices, noted that to prevail in their contention that the at-large voting system violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, plaintiffs had to prove the
The plurality went on to conclude that the District Court had failed to comply with this standard. The District Court had analyzed plaintiffs' claims in light of the standard which had been set forth in Zimmer v. McKeithen, 485 F.2d 1297 (CA5 1973), aff'd on other grounds sub nom. East Carroll Parish School Bd. v. Marshall, 424 U.S. 636 (1975) (per curiam).
The plurality in Mobile was of the view that Zimmer was "decided upon the misunderstanding that it is not necessary to show a discriminatory purpose in order to prove a violation of the Equal Protection Clause — that proof of a discriminatory effect is sufficient." 446 U. S., at 71. The plurality observed that while "the presence of the indicia relied on in Zimmer may afford some evidence of a discriminatory purpose," the mere existence of those criteria is not a substitute for a finding of discriminatory purpose. Id., at 73. The District Court's standard in Mobile was likewise flawed. Finally, the plurality concluded that the evidence upon which the lower courts had relied was "insufficient to prove an unconstitutionally discriminatory purpose in the present case." Ibid. JUSTICE STEVENS rejected the intentional discrimination standard but concluded that the proof failed to satisfy the legal standard that in his view was the applicable rule. He therefore concurred in the judgment of reversal. Four other Justices, however, thought the evidence sufficient to satisfy the purposeful discrimination standard. One of them, JUSTICE BLACKMUN, nevertheless concurred in the Court's judgment because he believed an erroneous remedy had been imposed.
Because the District Court in the present case employed the evidentiary factors outlined in Zimmer, it is urged that
The District Court referred to Nevett v. Sides and demonstrated its understanding of the controlling standard by observing that a determination of discriminatory intent is "a requisite to a finding of unconstitutional vote dilution" under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. App. to Juris. Statement 68a. Furthermore, while recognizing that the evidentiary factors identified in Zimmer were to be considered, the District Court was aware that it was "not limited in its determination only to the Zimmer factors" but could consider other relevant factors as well. App. to Juris. Statement 70a. The District Court then proceeded to deal with what it considered to
Although a tenable argument can be made to the contrary, we are not inclined to disagree with the Court of Appeals' conclusion that the District Court applied the proper legal standard.
We are also unconvinced that we should disturb the District Court's finding that the at-large system in Burke County was being maintained for the invidious purpose of diluting the voting strength of the black population. In White v. Regester, 412 U. S., at 769-770, we stated that we were not inclined to overturn the District Court's factual findings, "representing as they do a blend of history and an intensely local appraisal of the design and impact of the Bexar County multimember district in the light of past and present reality, political and otherwise." See also Columbus Board of Education v. Penick, 443 U.S. 449, 468 (1979) (BURGER, C. J., concurring in judgment). Our recent decision in Pullman-Standard v. Swint, 456 U.S. 273 (1982), emphasizes the deference Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52 requires reviewing courts to give a trial court's findings of fact. "Rule 52(a) broadly requires that findings of fact not be set aside unless
The District Court found that blacks have always made up a substantial majority of the population in Burke County, App. to Juris. Statement 66a, n. 3, but that they are a distinct minority of the registered voters. Id., at 71a-72a. There was also overwhelming evidence of bloc voting along racial lines. Id., at 72a-73a. Hence, although there had been black candidates, no black had ever been elected to the Burke County Commission. These facts bear heavily on the issue of purposeful discrimination. Voting along racial lines allows those elected to ignore black interests without fear of political consequences, and without bloc voting the minority candidates would not lose elections solely because of their race. Because it is sensible to expect that at least some
Under our cases, however, such facts are insufficient in themselves to prove purposeful discrimination absent other evidence such as proof that blacks have less opportunity to participate in the political processes and to elect candidates of their choice. United Jewish Organizations v. Carey, 430 U.S. 144, 167 (1977); White v. Regester, supra, at 765-766; Whitcomb v. Chavis, 403 U. S., at 149-150. See also Mobile v. Bolden, 446 U. S., at 66 (plurality opinion). Both the District Court and the Court of Appeals thought the supporting proof in this case was sufficient to support an inference of intentional discrimination. The supporting evidence was organized primarily around the factors which Nevett v. Sides, 571 F.2d 209 (CA5 1978), had deemed relevant to the issue of intentional discrimination. These factors were primarily those suggested in Zimmer v. McKeithen, 485 F.2d 1297 (CA5 1973).
The District Court began by determining the impact of past discrimination on the ability of blacks to participate effectively in the political process. Past discrimination was found to contribute to low black voter registration because, prior to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, blacks had been denied access to the political process by means such as literacy tests, poll taxes, and white primaries. The result was that "Black suffrage in Burke County was virtually non-existent." App. to Juris. Statement 71a. Black voter registration in Burke County has increased following the Voting Rights Act to the point that some 38% of blacks eligible to vote are registered to do so. Id., at 72a. On that basis the District Court inferred that "past discrimination has had an adverse effect on black voter registration which lingers to this date." Ibid. Past discrimination against blacks in education also had the same effect. Not only did Burke County schools discriminate against blacks as recently as 1969, but also some schools
The District Court found further evidence of exclusion from the political process. Past discrimination had prevented blacks from effectively participating in Democratic Party affairs and in primary elections. Until this lawsuit was filed, there had never been a black member of the County Executive Committee of the Democratic Party. There were also property ownership requirements that made it difficult for blacks to serve as chief registrar in the county. There had been discrimination in the selection of grand jurors, the hiring of county employees, and in the appointments to boards and committees which oversee the county government. Id., at 74a-76a. The District Court thus concluded that historical discrimination had restricted the present opportunity of blacks effectively to participate in the political process. Evidence of historical discrimination is relevant to drawing an inference of purposeful discrimination, particularly in cases such as this one where the evidence shows that discriminatory practices were commonly utilized, that they were abandoned when enjoined by courts or made illegal by civil rights legislation, and that they were replaced by laws and practices which, though neutral on their face, serve to maintain the status quo.
Extensive evidence was cited by the District Court to support its finding that elected officials of Burke County have been unresponsive and insensitive to the needs of the black community,
The District Court also considered the depressed socio-economic status of Burke County blacks. It found that proportionately more blacks than whites have incomes below the poverty level. Id., at 83a. Nearly 53% of all black families living in Burke County had incomes equal to or less than three-fourths of a poverty-level income. Ibid. Not only have blacks completed less formal education than whites, but also the education they have received "was qualitatively inferior to a marked degree." Id., at 84a. Blacks tend to receive less pay than whites, even for similar work, and they tend to be employed in menial jobs more often than whites. Id., at 85a. Seventy-three percent of houses occupied by blacks lacked all or some plumbing facilities; only 16% of white-occupied houses suffered the same deficiency. Ibid. The District Court concluded that the depressed socio-economic status of blacks results in part from "the lingering effects of past discrimination." Ibid.
Although finding that the state policy behind the at-large electoral system in Burke County was "neutral in origin," the District Court concluded that the policy "has been subverted to invidious purposes." Id., at 90a. As a practical matter, maintenance of the state statute providing for at-large elections in Burke County is determined by Burke County's state representatives, for the legislature defers to their wishes on matters of purely local application. The court found that Burke County's state representatives "have retained a system which has minimized the ability of Burke County Blacks to participate in the political system." Ibid.
None of the District Court's findings underlying its ultimate finding of intentional discrimination appears to us to be clearly erroneous; and as we have said, we decline to overturn the essential finding of the District Court, agreed to by the Court of Appeals, that the at-large system in Burke County has been maintained for the purpose of denying blacks equal access to the political processes in the county. As in White v. Regester, 412 U. S., at 767, the District Court's findings were "sufficient to sustain [its] judgment... and, on this record, we have no reason to disturb them."
We also find no reason to overturn the relief ordered by the District Court. Neither the District Court nor the Court of Appeals discerned any special circumstances that would militate
The judgment of the Court of Appeals is
JUSTICE POWELL, with whom JUSTICE REHNQUIST joins, dissenting.
Mobile v. Bolden, 446 U.S. 55 (1980), establishes that an at-large voting system must be upheld against constitutional attack unless maintained for a discriminatory purpose. In Mobile we reversed a finding of unconstitutional vote dilution because the lower courts had relied on factors insufficient as a matter of law to establish discriminatory intent. See id., at 73 (plurality opinion of Stewart, J.). The District Court and Court of Appeals in this case based their findings of unconstitutional discrimination on the same factors held insufficient in Mobile. Yet the Court now finds their conclusion unexceptionable. The Mobile plurality also affirmed
Whatever the wisdom of Mobile, the Court's opinion cannot be reconciled persuasively with that case. There are some variances in the largely sociological evidence presented in the two cases. But Mobile held that this kind of evidence was not enough. Such evidence, we found in Mobile, did not merely fall short, but "fell far short[,] of showing that [an at-large electoral scheme was] `conceived or operated [as a] purposeful devic[e] to further racial ... discrimination.'" Id., at 70 (emphasis added), quoting Whitcomb v. Chavis, 403 U.S. 124, 149 (1971). Because I believe that Mobile controls this case, I dissent.
The Court's decision today relies heavily on the capacity of the federal district courts — essentially free from any standards propounded by this Court — to determine whether at-large voting systems are "being maintained for the invidious purpose of diluting the voting strength of the black population." Ante, at 622. Federal courts thus are invited to engage in deeply subjective inquiries into the motivations of local officials in structuring local governments. Inquiries of this kind not only can be "unseemly," see Karst, The Costs of Motive-Centered Inquiry, 15 San Diego L. Rev. 1163, 1164 (1978); they intrude the federal courts — with only the vaguest constitutional direction — into an area of intensely local and political concern.
Emphasizing these considerations, JUSTICE STEVENS, post, at 642-650, argues forcefully that the Court's focus of inquiry is seriously mistaken. I agree with much of what he says. As I do not share his views entirely, however, I write separately.
As I understand it, JUSTICE STEVENS' critique of the Court's approach rests on three principles with which I am in fundamental agreement.
First, it is appropriate to distinguish between "state action that inhibits an individual's right to vote and state action that affects the political strength of various groups." Mobile v. Bolden, supra, at 83 (STEVENS, J., concurring in judgment); see post, at 632, 637-638, n. 16. Under this distinction, this case is fundamentally different from cases involving direct barriers to voting. There is no claim here that blacks may not register freely and vote for whom they choose. This case also differs from one-man, one-vote cases, in which districting practices make a person's vote less weighty in some districts than in others.
Second, I agree with JUSTICE STEVENS that vote dilution cases of this kind are difficult if not impossible to distinguish — especially in their remedial aspect — from other actions to redress gerrymanders. See post, at 650-653.
Finally, JUSTICE STEVENS clearly is correct in arguing that the standard used to identify unlawful racial discrimination in this area should be defined in terms that are judicially manageable and reviewable. See post, at 633, 642-650. In the absence of compelling reasons of both law and fact, the federal judiciary is unwarranted in undertaking to restructure state political systems. This is inherently a political area, where the identification of a seeming violation does not necessarily suggest an enforceable judicial remedy — or at least none short of a system of quotas or group representation. Any such system, of course, would be antithetical to the principles of our democracy.
JUSTICE STEVENS would accommodate these principles by holding that subjective intent is irrelevant to the establishment of a case of racial vote dilution under the Fourteenth Amendment. See post, at 637. Despite sharing the concerns
Nonetheless, I do agree with him that what he calls "objective" factors should be the focus of inquiry in vote-dilution cases. Unlike the considerations on which the lower courts relied in this case and in Mobile, the factors identified by JUSTICE STEVENS as "objective" in fact are direct, reliable, and unambiguous indices of discriminatory intent. If we held, as I think we should, that the district courts must place primary reliance on these factors to establish discriminatory intent, we would prevent federal-court inquiries into the subjective thought processes of local officials — at least until enough objective evidence had been presented to warrant discovery into subjective motivations in this complex, politically charged area. By prescribing such a rule we would hold federal courts to a standard that was judicially manageable. And we would remain faithful to the central protective purpose of the Equal Protection Clause.
In the absence of proof of discrimination by reliance on the kind of objective factors identified by JUSTICE STEVENS, I would hold that the factors cited by the Court of Appeals are too attenuated as a matter of law to support an inference of discriminatory intent. I would reverse its judgment on that basis.
JUSTICE STEVENS, dissenting.
Our legacy of racial discrimination has left its scars on Burke County, Georgia.
Nor, in my opinion, could there be any doubt about the constitutionality of an amendment to the Voting Rights Act that would require Burke County and other covered jurisdictions to abandon specific kinds of at-large voting schemes that perpetuate the effects of past discrimination. "As against the reserved powers of the States, Congress may use any rational means to effectuate the constitutional prohibition of racial discrimination in voting." South Carolina v. Katzenbach, 383 U.S. 301, 324. It might indeed be wise policy to accelerate the transition of minority groups to a position of political power commensurate with their voting strength by amending the Act to prohibit the use of multimember districts in all covered jurisdictions.
The Court's decision today, however, is not based on either its own conception of sound policy or any statutory command. The decision rests entirely on the Court's interpretation of the requirements of the Federal Constitution. Despite my sympathetic appraisal of the Court's laudable goals, I am unable to agree with its approach to the constitutional issue that
The Court's entry into the business of electoral reapportionment in 1962 was preceded by a lengthy and scholarly debate over the role the judiciary legitimately could play in what Justice Frankfurter described in Colegrove v. Green, 328 U.S. 549, as a "political thicket."
In 1962, the Court changed course. In another challenge to the constitutionality of a 1901 districting statute, it held that the political question doctrine did not foreclose judicial review. Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186. That decision represents one of the great landmarks in the history of this Court's jurisprudence.
Two aspects of the Court's opinion in Baker v. Carr are of special relevance to the case the Court decides today. First, the Court's scholarly review of the political question doctrine focused on the dominant importance of satisfactory standards for judicial determination.
In reviewing the constitutionality of the structure of a local government, two quite different methods of analysis could be employed. The Court might identify the specific features of the government that raise constitutional concerns and decide whether, singly or in combination, they are valid. This is the approach the Court has used in testing the constitutionality of rules conditioning the right to vote on payment of a poll tax,
Alternatively, the Court could employ a subjective approach under which the constitutionality of a challenged procedure depends entirely on federal judges' appraisals of the reasons why particular localities have chosen to govern themselves in a particular way. The Constitution would simply protect a right to have an electoral machinery established and maintained without the influence of impermissible factors. Constitutional challenges to identical procedures in neighboring communities could produce totally different results, for the subjective motivations of the legislators who enacted the procedures — or at least the admissible evidence that might be discovered concerning such motivation — could be quite different.
In deciding the question presented in this case, the Court abruptly rejects the former approach and considers only the latter. It starts from the premise that Burke County's at-large
I am troubled by each aspect of the Court's analysis. In my opinion, the question whether Burke County's at-large system may survive scrutiny under a purely objective analysis is not nearly as easy to answer as the Court implies. Assuming, however, that the system is otherwise valid, I do not believe that the subjective intent of the persons who adopted the system in 1911, or the intent of those who have since declined to change it, can determine its constitutionality. Even if the intent of the political majority were the controlling constitutional consideration, I could not agree that the only political groups that are entitled to protection under the Court's rule are those defined by racial characteristics.
At-large voting systems generally tend to maximize the political power of the majority. See ante, at 616.
Even if one assumes that a system of local government in which power is concentrated in the hands of a small group of persons elected from the community at large is an acceptable — or perhaps even a preferred — form of municipal government,
In this case, appellees have not argued — presumably because they assumed that this Court's many references to the requirement of proving an improper motive in equal protection cases are controlling in this new context — that the special features of Burke County's at-large system have such an
If the governmental structure were itself found to lack a legitimate justification, inquiry into subjective intent would clearly be unnecessary. As JUSTICE MARSHALL stated in his dissent in Mobile: "Whatever may be the merits of applying motivational analysis to the allocation of constitutionally gratuitous benefits, that approach is completely misplaced where, as here, it is applied to the distribution of a constitutionally protected interest." 446 U. S., at 121.
Ever since I joined the Court, I have been concerned about the Court's emphasis on subjective intent as a criterion for constitutional adjudication.
The facts of this case illustrate the ephemeral character of a constitutional standard that focuses on subjective intent. When the suit was filed in 1976, approximately 58 percent of the population of Burke County was black and approximately 42 percent was white. Because black citizens had been denied access to the political process—through means that have since been outlawed by the Voting Rights Act of 1965—and because there had been insufficient time to enable the registration of black voters to overcome the history of past injustice, the majority of registered voters in the county were white. The at-large electoral system therefore served, as a result of the presence of bloc voting, to maintain white control of the local government. Whether it would have continued to do so would have depended on a mix of at least three different factors—the continuing increase in voter registration among blacks, the continuing exodus of black residents from the county, and the extent to which racial bloc voting continued to dominate local politics.
If those elected officials in control of the political machinery had formed the judgment that these factors created a likelihood that a bloc of black voters was about to achieve sufficient strength to elect an entirely new administration, they
If votes continue to be cast on a racial basis, the judicial remedy virtually guarantees that whites will continue to control a majority of seats on the County Board. It is at least possible that white control of the political machinery has been frozen by judicial decree at a time when increased black voter registration might have led to a complete change of administration. Since the federal judge's intent was unquestionably benign rather than invidious—and, unlike that of state officials, is presumably not subject in any event to the Court's standard—that result has been accomplished without violating the Federal Constitution.
In the future, it is not inconceivable that the white officials who are likely to remain in power under the District Court's plan will desire to perpetuate that system and to continue to control a majority of seats on the County Board. Under this Court's standard, if some of those officials harbor such an intent for an "invidious" reason, the District Court's plan will itself become unconstitutional. It is not clear whether the invidious intent would have to be shared by all three white
The costs and the doubts associated with litigating questions of motive, which are often significant in routine trials, will be especially so in cases involving the "motives" of legislative bodies.
The Court avoids these problems by failing to answer the very question that its standard asks. Presumably, according to the Court's analysis, the Burke County governmental structure is unconstitutional because it was maintained at some point for an invidious purpose. Yet the Court scarcely identifies the manner in which changes to a county governmental structure are made. There is no reference to any unsuccessful attempt to replace the at-large system with single-member districts. It is incongruous that subjective intent is identified as the constitutional standard and yet the persons who allegedly harbored an improper intent are never identified or mentioned. Undoubtedly, the evidence relied on by the Court proves that racial prejudice has played an important role in the history of Burke County and has motivated many wrongful acts by various community leaders. But unless that evidence is sufficient to prove that every governmental action was motivated by a racial animus—and may be remedied by a federal court—the Court has failed under its own test to demonstrate that the governmental structure of Burke County was maintained for a discriminatory purpose.
Certainly governmental action should not be influenced by irrelevant considerations. I am not convinced, however,
A rule that would invalidate all governmental action motivated by racial, ethnic, or political considerations is too broad. Moreover, in my opinion the Court is incorrect in assuming that the intent of elected officials is invidious when they are motivated by a desire to retain control of the local political machinery. For such an intent is surely characteristic
The obvious response to this suggestion is that this case involves a racial group and that governmental decisions that disadvantage such a group must be subject to special scrutiny under the Fourteenth Amendment. I therefore must
Governmental action that discriminates between individuals on the basis of their race is, at the very least, presumptively irrational.
Groups of every character may associate together to achieve legitimate common goals. If they voluntarily identify themselves by a common interest in a specific issue, by a common ethnic heritage, by a common religious belief, or by their race, that characteristic assumes significance as the bond that gives the group cohesion and political strength. When referring to different kinds of political groups, this Court has consistently indicated that, to borrow JUSTICE BRENNAN'S phrasing, the Equal Protection Clause does not make some groups of citizens more equal than others. See Zobel v. Williams, 457 U.S. 55, 71 (BRENNAN, J., concurring). Thus, the Court has considered challenges to discrimination based on "differences of color, race, nativity, religious opinions [or] political affiliations," American Sugar Refining Co. v. Louisiana, 179 U.S. 89, 92; to redistricting plans that serve "to further racial or economic discrimination," Whitcomb v. Chavis, 403 U.S. 124, 149; to biases "tending to favor particular political interests or geographic areas." Abate v. Mundt, 403 U.S. 182, 187. Indeed, in its
A constitutional standard that gave special protection to political groups identified by racial characteristics would be inconsistent with the basic tenet of the Equal Protection Clause. Those groups are no more or no less able to pursue their interests in the political arena than are groups defined by other characteristics. Nor can it be said that racial alliances are so unrelated to political action that any electoral decision that is influenced by racial consciousness—as opposed to other forms of political consciousness—is inherently irrational. For it is the very political power of a racial or ethnic group that creates a danger that an entrenched majority will take action contrary to the group's political interests. "The mere fact that a number of citizens share a common ethnic, racial, or religious background does not create the need for protection against gerrymandering. It is only when their common interests are strong enough to be manifested in political action that the need arises. Thus the characteristic of the group which creates the need for protection is its political character." Cousins v. City Council of Chicago, 466 F.2d 830, 852 (CA7 1972) (Stevens, J., dissenting), cert. denied, 409 U.S. 893. It would be unrealistic to distinguish racial groups from other political groups on the ground that race is an irrelevant factor in the political process.
Racial consciousness and racial association are not desirable features of our political system. We all look forward to the day when race is an irrelevant factor in the political process. In my opinion, however, that goal will best be achieved by eliminating the vestiges of discrimination that motivate disadvantaged racial and ethnic groups to vote as identifiable units. Whenever identifiable groups in our society are disadvantaged, they will share common political interests and tend to vote as a "bloc." In this respect, racial groups are
My conviction that all minority groups are equally entitled to constitutional protection against the misuse of the majority's political power does not mean that I would abandon judicial review of such action. As I have written before, a gerrymander as grotesque as the boundaries condemned in Gomillion v. Lightfoot, 364 U.S. 339, is intolerable whether it fences out black voters, Republican voters, or Irish-Catholic voters. Mobile v. Bolden, 446 U. S., at 86 (opinion concurring in judgment). But if the standard the Court applies today extends to all types of minority groups, it is either so broad that virtually every political device is vulnerable or it is so undefined that federal judges can pick and choose almost at will among those that will be upheld and those that will be condemned.
There are valid reasons for concluding that certain minority groups—such as the black voters in Burke County, Georgia —should be given special protection from political oppression by the dominant majority. But those are reasons that justify the application of a legislative policy choice rather than a constitutional principle that cannot be confined to special
I respectfully dissent.
The plurality noted that plaintiffs' claim under § 2 of the Voting Rights Act, 79 Stat. 437, as amended, 42 U. S. C. § 1973, added nothing to their Fifteenth Amendment claim because the "legislative history of § 2 makes clear that it was intended to have an effect no different from that of the Fifteenth Amendment itself." 446 U. S., at 60-61.
Appellants also contend that the doctrine of unconstitutional dilution of voting rights arising from an at-large election system does not apply to county governing bodies. We find no merit to this contention, having previously affirmed a judgment that at-large elections for the governing body of a parish (county) unconstitutionally diluted black voting strength. East Carroll Parish School Bd. v. Marshall, 424 U.S. 636 (1976).
"Nothing is clearer than that this controversy concerns matters that bring courts into immediate and active relations with party contests. From the determination of such issues this Court has traditionally held aloof. It is hostile to a democratic system to involve the judiciary in the politics of the people. And it is not less pernicious if such judicial intervention in an essentially political contest be dressed up in the abstract phrases of the law.
. . . . .
"Courts ought not to enter this political thicket. The remedy for unfairness in districting is to secure State legislatures that will apportion properly, or to invoke the ample powers of Congress. The Constitution has many commands that are not enforceable by courts because they clearly fall outside the conditions and purposes that circumscribe judicial action. Thus, `on Demand of the executive Authority,' Art. IV, § 2, of a State it is the duty of a sister State to deliver up a fugitive from justice. But the fulfilment of this duty cannot be judicially enforced. Kentucky v. Dennison, 24 How. 66. The duty to see to it that the laws are faithfully executed cannot be brought under legal compulsion, Mississippi v. Johnson, 4 Wall. 475. Violation of the great guaranty of a republican form of government in States cannot be challenged in the courts. Pacific Telephone Co. v. Oregon, 223 U.S. 118. The Constitution has left the performance of many duties in our governmental scheme to depend on the fidelity of the executive and legislative action and, ultimately, on the vigilance of the people in exercising their political rights." 328 U. S., at 553-554, 556.
"Judicial standards under the Equal Protection Clause are well developed and familiar, and it has been open to courts since the enactment of the Fourteenth Amendment to determine, if on the particular facts they must, that a discrimination reflects no policy, but simply arbitrary and capricious action." Ibid.
The challenge to multimember or at-large districts is, of course, quite different from the challenge to the value of individual votes considered in Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533. An at-large system is entirely consistent with the one-person, one-vote rule developed in that case. As Justice Stewart noted in Mobile, in considering the applicability of Reynolds and the cases that followed it:
"Those cases established that the Equal Protection Clause guarantees the right of each voter to `have his vote weighted equally with those of all other citizens.' 377 U. S., at 576. The Court recognized that a voter's right to `have an equally effective voice' in the election of representatives is impaired where representation is not apportioned substantially on a population basis. In such cases, the votes of persons in more populous districts carry less weight than do those of persons in smaller districts. There can be, of course, no claim that the `one person, one vote' principle has been violated in this case, because the city of Mobile is a unitary electoral district and the Commission elections are conducted at large. It is therefore obvious that nobody's vote has been `diluted' in the sense in which that word was used in the Reynolds case." 446 U. S., at 77-78 (plurality opinion).
See also id., at 83 (STEVENS, J., concurring in judgment).
"`In every case, however, no matter how much charters may differ as to minor details, they have certain fundamental features in common. These fundamental features of commission charters are four:
"1. Authority and responsibility are centralized.
"2. The number of men in whom this authority and this responsibility are vested is small.
"3. These few men are elected from the city at large and not by wards or districts.
"4. Each man is at the head of a single department.'
"The most radical departure the new scheme made was the combination of legislative and executive functions in one body. The plan disregarded the federal model of separation of powers. Sitting together, the commission was a typical policy- and ordinance-making council; but, separately, each commissioner administered a specific department on a day-to-day basis. The original Galveston charter provided for a mayor-president plus commissioners of finance and revenue, waterworks and sewerage, streets and public property, and fire and police. Later commission cities followed a similar division of responsibility." B. Rice, Progressive Cities: The Commission Government Movement in America, 1901-1920, pp. xiii-xiv (1977) (footnote omitted).
"The danger I see is the somewhat different one that the Court, in its newfound enthusiasm for motivation analysis, will seek to export it to fields where it has no business. It therefore cannot be emphasized too strongly that analysis of motivation is appropriate only to claims of improper discrimination in the distribution of goods that are constitutionally gratuitous (that is, benefits to which people are not entitled as a matter of substantive constitutional right). In such cases the covert employment of a principle of selection that could not constitutionally be employed overtly is equally unconstitutional. However, where what is denied is something to which the complainant has a substantive constitutional right—either because it is granted by the terms of the Constitution, or because it is essential to the effective functioning of a democratic government—the reasons it was denied are irrelevant. It may become important in court what justifications counsel for the state can articulate in support of its denial or non-provision, but the reasons that actually inspired the denial never can: To have a right to something is to have a claim on it irrespective of why it is denied. It would be a tragedy of the first order were the Court to expand its burgeoning awareness of the relevance of motivation into the thoroughly mistaken notion that a denial of a constitutional right does not count as such unless it was intentional." Ely, The Centrality and Limits of Motivation Analysis, 15 San Diego L. Rev. 1155, 1160-1161 (1978) (emphasis in original) (footnotes omitted).
"Frequently the most probative evidence of intent will be objective evidence of what actually happened rather than evidence describing the subjective state of mind of the actor. For normally the actor is presumed to have intended the natural consequences of his deeds. This is particularly true in the case of governmental action which is frequently the product of compromise, of collective decisionmaking, and of mixed motivation. It is unrealistic, on the one hand, to require the victim of alleged discrimination to uncover the actual subjective intent of the decisionmaker or, conversely, to invalidate otherwise legitimate action simply because an improper motive affected the deliberation of a participant in the decisional process. A law conscripting clerics should not be invalidated because an atheist voted for it." Id., at 253 (concurring opinion).
Voting Age Black Voting Age White Voting Age District Population Population (%) Population (%) 1 2,048 1,482 (72.4) 556 (27.6) 2 2,029 1,407 (69.3) 622 (30.7) 3 2,115 978 (46.2) 1,137 (53.8) 4 2,112 947 (44.6) 1,175 (55.4) 5 2,217 803 (36.2) 1,414 (63.8)
See Lodge v. Buxton, 639 F.2d 1358, 1361, n. 4 (CA5 1981).
"[E]ven though the proof will center on the effects of what officials have done, the ultimate issue will be posed in terms of the goodness or the evil of the officials' hearts. Courts have long regarded such inquiries as unseemly, as the legislative investigation cases of the 1950's attest. The principal concern here is not that tender judicial sensitivities may be bruised, but that a judge's reluctance to challenge the purity of other officials' motives may cause her to fail to recognize valid claims of racial discrimination even when the motives for governmental action are highly suspect. Because an individual's behavior results from the interaction of a multitude of motives, and because racial attitudes often operate at the margin of consciousness, in any given case there almost certainly will be an opportunity for a governmental official to argue that his action was prompted by racially neutral considerations. When that argument is made, should we not expect the judge to give the official the benefit of the moral doubt? When the governmental action is the product of a group decision, will not that tendency toward generosity be heightened?" Karst, The Costs of Motive-Centered Inquiry, 15 San Diego L. Rev. 1163, 1164-1165 (1978) (footnote omitted).
To reject an examination into subjective intent is not to rule that the reasons for legislative action are irrelevant. "In my opinion, customary indicia of legislative intent provide an adequate basis for ascertaining the purpose that a law is intended to achieve. The formal proceedings of the legislature and its committees, the effect of the measure as evidenced by its text, the historical setting in which it was enacted, and the public acts and deeds of its sponsors and opponents, provide appropriate evidence of legislative purpose." Cousins v. City Council of Chicago, 466 F.2d 830, 856 (CA7 1972) (Stevens, J., dissenting), cert. denied, 409 U.S. 893. If a challenged law disadvantages minority citizens and its justifications—as evidenced by customary indicia of legislative intent—are insufficient to persuade a neutral observer that the law was enacted for legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons, it is, in my opinion, invalid.