Missouri State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; Redditt Hudson; F. Willis Johnson; Doris Bailey Plaintiffs - Appellees
Ferguson-Florissant School District Defendant-Appellant St. Louis County Board of Election Commissioners Defendant Missouri School Boards' Association Amicus on Behalf of Appellant(s)
Submitted: December 13, 2017
from United States District Court for the Eastern District of
Missouri - St. Louis
SMITH, Chief Judge, ARNOLD and KELLY, Circuit Judges.
Missouri State Conference of the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People and the other named plaintiffs
(together, the NAACP) sued the Ferguson-Florissant School
District (FFSD, or the district) for vote dilution under
section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), 52 U.S.C
§ 10301. After a bench trial, the district
court found that (1) the NAACP had proved the
preconditions for a section 2 claim, and (2) the totality of
the circumstances indicated that the district's black
voters had less opportunity to elect their preferred
candidate than other members of the electorate. FFSD appeals
begin with the underlying facts of the case, the legal
framework applicable to section 2 vote dilution claims, and
the proceedings below.
a school district located in northern St. Louis County,
Missouri. It was created after a 1975 desegregation order
required the original FFSD to annex two neighboring school
districts "to achieve a meaningful desegregation"
within one unified district. United States v.
Missouri, 515 F.2d 1365, 1366 (8th Cir. 1975) (en banc).
It includes all or part of eleven municipalities, and is
governed by a seven-member school board. Each member is
elected "at-large" by the popular vote of the
entire district. Members of the FFSD board serve three-year
terms with two or three seats filled by an election every
in FFSD board elections works as follows. Assume there are
three seats to be filled in a given election. All of the
candidates are listed on a single ballot. Each voter gets
three votes, one for each seat, and can cast those three
votes for any three candidates, but cannot vote for any
candidate more than once. The top three vote-getters assume
seats on the board. In a two-seat year, the same procedures
are followed with two votes rather than three. The only time
this procedure is not followed is when the election is
uncontested (i.e., there are the same number of candidates as
there are available seats). In that circumstance, the
candidates simply assume the positions on the board and the
election is cancelled.
2 of the VRA protects against the "denial or abridgement
of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on
account of race or color" in any election held by a
"State or a political subdivision." Section 2
claims are "established if, based on the totality of
circumstances," it is shown that members of a racial
minority group "have less opportunity than other members
of the electorate to participate in the political process and
to elect representatives of their choice." One manner in
which a violation may occur is when districts that elect
several at-large representatives "operate to impair
blacks' ability to elect representatives of their
choice." Thornburg v. Gingles, 478 U.S. 30, 42
(1986). Such a circumstance gives rise to a "claim of
vote dilution." Id.; see also Buckanaga v.
Sisseton Indep. Sch. Dist., No. 54-5, S.D., 804 F.2d
469, 471 (8th Cir. 1986) ("The legislative history of
the 1982 amendment to § 2 indicates that it was aimed
particularly at discriminatory at-large election systems
which dilute minority voting strength.").
are two steps to proving a section 2 vote dilution claim: (1)
satisfying the so-called "Gingles
preconditions," and (2) showing the violation based on a
totality of the circumstances. In the first step, plaintiffs
are required to prove three preconditions by a preponderance
of the evidence:
(1) The racial group is sufficiently large and geographically
compact to constitute a majority in a single-member district;
(2) the racial group is politically cohesive; and (3) the
majority votes sufficiently as a bloc to enable it to usually
defeat the minority's preferred candidate.
Bone Shirt v. Hazeltime, 461 F.3d 1011, 1018 (8th
Cir. 2006) (cleaned up) (quoting League of United Latin
Am. Citizens v. Perry (LULAC), 548 U.S. 399,
425 (2006)). Satisfying these three preconditions
"carries a plaintiff a long way towards showing a
Section 2 violation," but does not suffice. Harvell
v. Blytheville Sch. Dist. No. 5, 71 F.3d 1382, 1390 (8th
Cir. 1995) (en banc).
second step, "the statutory test directs us to consider
the 'totality of the circumstances' to determine
whether members of a racial group have less opportunity than
do other members of the electorate." LULAC, 548
U.S. at 425-26. The Supreme Court has further instructed
that, in applying this standard, we are to consider a list of
factors that were included in the Senate Report on the 1982
amendments to the VRA. Id. at 426. These factors
(1) "the history of voting-related discrimination in the
State or political subdivision;"
(2) "the extent to which voting in the elections of that
State or political subdivision is racially polarized;"
(3) "the extent to which the State or political
subdivision has used voting practices or procedures that tend
to enhance the opportunity for discrimination against the
minority group, such as unusually large election districts,
majority vote requirements, and prohibitions against bullet
(4)"the exclusion of members of the minority group from
candidate slating processes;"
(5) "the extent to which minority group members bear the
effects of past discrimination in areas such as education,
employment, and health, which hinder their ability to
participate effectively in the political process;"
(6)"the use of overt or subtle racial appeals in
(7)"the extent to which members of the minority group
have been elected to public office in the jurisdiction;"
(8)the extent to which "elected officials are
unresponsive to the particularized needs of the members of
the minority group;" and
(9)whether "the policy underlying the State's or
political subdivision's use of the contested practice or
structure is tenuous."
Gingles, 478 U.S. at 44-45; see also LULAC,
548 U.S. at 426; Bone Shirt, 461 F.3d at 1021-22.
The Senate Report also "stresses . . . this list of
typical factors is neither comprehensive nor exclusive."
Gingles, 478 U.S. at 45.
NAACP sued FFSD and the St. Louis County Board of Elections,
alleging that FFSD's at-large elections violated section
2 of the VRA because the elections-along with the historical
and socioeconomic realities present in the district-denied
black residents a meaningful opportunity ...