GARY VOKETZ, for himself and on behalf of the citizens of Decatur, Alabama, and the State of Alabama, Plaintiff - Appellant,
DECATUR, ALABAMA, CITY OF, the; a municipal corporation, CITY COUNCIL OF DECATUR, THE, DON KYLE, ROGER ANDERS, BILLY JACKSON, et al., Defendants - Appellees, AL ROBINSON, DORIS A. BAKER, DR. SAMUEL T. KING, ANNIE R. PRIEST, Intervenors Defendants - Appellees.
from the United States District Court for the Northern
District of Alabama D.C. Docket No. 5:14-cv-00540-AKK
TJOFLAT and JULIE CARNES, Circuit Judges, and BLOOM, [*] District Judge.
CARNES, CIRCUIT JUDGE:
2010, Decatur residents passed a referendum to change
Decatur's form of government, including how the city
council was elected. City officials, however, decided not to
implement the referendum because they believed doing so would
violate § 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Gary Voketz filed
this lawsuit in 2014 to compel Decatur to implement the
referendum. The City and its current councilmembers again
contend that they cannot do so because it would violate
initially denying the defendants' motion for summary
judgment based on § 5, the district court reversed
itself and granted summary judgment. We disagree with the
court's second decision. By striking down §
4(b)'s coverage formula that defined the jurisdictions to
which § 5 applies, the Supreme Court's decision in
Shelby County v. Holder, 570 U.S. 529 (2013),
rendered § 5 inapplicable to Decatur. Thus, § 5
does not prohibit Decatur from implementing the referendum
and reforming its government now, in 2018. Accordingly, we
REVERSE the district court.
2009, Voketz, a Decatur resident, began circulating a
petition for a referendum to change the form of government of
Decatur, Alabama. Decatur had redrawn its voting districts in
2004 to comply with the Voting Rights Act. By doing so, the
City freed itself from a 1988 consent decree that governed
its electoral procedures. Given this new freedom, Voketz
sought a referendum to change Decatur's form of
government from mayor-council to council-manager.
time Voketz began circulating his petition, Decatur's
mayor-council government was led by a mayor elected at large
and five city councilmembers elected from single-member
voting districts. One of the five councilmember voting
districts had a black voting-age majority.
referendum to change to a council-manager government would
retain the five-member city council but would modify how
those members were elected. Instead of all members being
elected through single-member voting districts, two members
would be elected at large-one of whom would serve as mayor.
Ala. Code § 11-43A-8. The remaining three councilmembers
would be elected by single-member districts. Id.
efforts were successful, and, in 2010, the referendum passed,
and the residents of Decatur elected to change to a
council-manager form of government.
new single-member districts that satisfied both federal and
state law, however, put Decatur between a rock and a hard
place. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act required that
Decatur, as a covered jurisdiction, preclear any changes to
its voting laws either with the Department of Justice or by
obtaining a declaratory judgment from the United States
District Court for the District of Columbia. 52 U.S.C. §
10304(a). Without preclearance, § 5 stipulated that
covered jurisdictions like Decatur could not enact or
administer any laws that would have a retrogressive effect on
minority voting power-meaning that a minority
population's ability to elect its preferred candidate
could not be decreased. Id.; see also Reno v.
Bossier Parish Sch. Bd., 520 U.S. 471, 478 (1997).
Alabama law required that Decatur's voting districts
"contain[ ] as nearly an equal number of people as
possible." Ala. Code § 11-43A-9. But, because of
the overall population numbers and geographic spread of
Decatur's black voting-age population, the only feasible
way (according to the City) to comply with § 5 and
preserve a majority-black voting district was to draw
districts that were greatly unequal in population.
tension between preserving a majority-black voting district
and equalizing population between the districts proved
unworkable. Of the six potential district maps evaluated by
the City, five had maximum population deviations between
districts of 24.09% or more. To comply with Alabama's
equal population requirement, Decatur adopted the sixth plan
that had a population deviation of only 3.62%. The sixth map,
however, required the removal of the majority-black voting
district because, under that map, the district would have
only a 34.96% black voting-age population.
Decatur submitted the sixth plan to the Department of Justice
for preclearance under § 5 in October 2011. In December
2011, DOJ sent Decatur a "more information
request." The request informed Decatur that "the
information sent is insufficient to enable [DOJ] to
determine" whether the new plan complied with § 5,
and it asked for further documentation and data on voting
behavior and election results. Faced with this request,
Decatur determined ...