Burke County, Georgia (defendant) maintained an at-large election system for its Board of Commissioners (Board). Under the system, each candidate ran for a specific seat—one of five seats—on the Board. Voters could vote only once for any candidate. The majority of the county’s population is black, but black citizens comprise only 38 percent of registered voters. A black candidate has never been elected to the Board. A group of black citizens (plaintiffs) sued, claiming the election system violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by diluting their voting power. The district court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, determining that the election system, while neutral when originally implemented, was being maintained for the purpose of diluting the voting strength of the county’s black citizens. The district court ordered that the county be broken up into five districts for Board election purposes. The court of appeals affirmed. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.