Thornton v. City of Greenville Historic Case

At a Glance

Case Description 

Thornton v. City of Greenville is a lawsuit against the City of Greenville, Mississippi in 1991 that contested the discriminatory election districts of the 1980’s.

The release of new census figures every ten years requires electoral redistricting, with the potential for great impact on Black communities across Mississippi seeking to preserve and strengthen their voting rights. Greenville’s Black community, with the help of CCR, developed a redistricting plan based on the 1990 census figures but were unable to reach agreement on the plan with the City.

As a result, CCR filed a lawsuit in 1991. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment in early 1992, and the case was dismissed. The City, however, proposed a new redistricting plan that was still unsuitable, and CCR demanded that the DOJ reject the city’s proposal, which they did in 1993.

When the city indicated it would then use the original unacceptable plan, CCR assisted the Black plaintiffs in filing a second lawsuit in October 1993. This suit charged that the City of Greenville’s election districts were in violation of the one person/one vote mandate of the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiffs also requested that the new plan comply with the Voting Rights Act.

When one of the council members was elected mayor in November 1995, a Black majority was temporarily created on the city council. The majority Black council promptly adopted a single-member district plan for municipal elections.

Some white citizens responded by seeking intervention in the suit to maintain dilution of the Black community’s voting strength. They cited another Supreme Court decision, Shaw v. Reno, as well as Miller, to support their claims that race couldn’t be a redistricting consideration even when used to remedy racial discrimination. These citizens failed to recognize the city’s current practice of pairing Greenville’s poorest Black communities with its most affluent white communities as intentional, foreseeable racial discrimination. The motion to intervene was denied.

After six years of struggling with a reluctant white community to come up with a mutually acceptable election plan, members of the Black community of Greenville finally agreed on a plan in 1996. The plan was approved by the Department of Justice (DOJ) for Section 5 pre-clearance under the Voting Rights Act.