Turning the Page on Section 5: The Implication of Multiracial Coalition Districts on Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act

This Note analyzes the use of coalition districts in light of current section 5 and equal protection jurisprudence and argues that, in some circumstances, the Equal Protection Clause compels the use of coalition districts to achieve non retrogression under section 5. Part I examines the use of coalition districts, using the litigation in Page v. Bartels as an example. It then argues that the Supreme Court’s opinion in Georgia v. Ashcroft permits jurisdictions to create viable racial coalition districts to comply with section 5. Part II argues that while Georgia v. Ashcroft permits the use of coalition districts to achieve section 5 compliance, the doctrine of strict scrutiny review under the Equal Protection Clause mandates the use of such districts. Because coalition districts minimize the harms resulting from race based classifications, strict scrutiny’s narrow-tailoring prong requires jurisdictions to create coalition districts, so long as the coalitions are viable and the new apportionment scheme otherwise meets the requirements of strict scrutiny. Finally, this Note concludes by cautioning that, in some areas, coalition districts will not be viable, and that some jurisdictions may enact racially discriminatory apportionment schemes under the guise of creating coalitions. As such, this Note argues that courts and the Justice Department must be cautious in permitting the use of coalition districts, and must therefore rigorously scrutinize whether true coalitions exist.