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Law School Case Brief

Zimmer v. McKeithen - 485 F.2d 1297 (5th Cir. 1973)

Rule:

It is not enough to prove a mere disparity between the number of minority residents and the number of minority representatives. Where it is apparent that a minority is afforded the opportunity to participate in the slating of candidates to represent its area, that the representatives slated and elected provide representation responsive to minority's needs, and that the use of a multi-member districting scheme is rooted in a strong state policy divorced from the maintenance of racial discrimination, controlling case law requires a holding of no dilution. Conversely, where a minority can demonstrate a lack of access to the process of slating candidates, the unresponsiveness of legislators to their particularized interests, a tenuous state policy underlying the preference for multi-member or at-large districting, or that the existence of past discrimination in general precludes the effective participation in the election system, a strong case is made. Such proof is enhanced by a showing of the existence of large districts, majority vote requirements, antisingle shot voting provisions, and the lack of provision for at-large candidates running from particular geographical subdistricts. The fact of dilution is established upon proof of the existence of an aggregate of these factors. All these factors need not be proved in order to obtain relief.

Facts:

The black population of a small rural town in northeast Louisiana was almost 58%. After several challenges to  state and locally imposed impediments to voting were successful, the number of registered black voters increased in East Carroll, Louisiana, which resulted in the election of two black members of the police jury and one black member to the school board.  These elections were conducted under the predecessor ward system.

After the 1970 census, the Parish Police Jury submitted the 1968 at-large plan for approval. Zimmer filed suit challenging the change from ward to at-large elections seeking to insure fidelity to the one-man, one-vote principle, and subsequently, appellant Marshall was permitted to intervene on behalf of himself and all other similarly situated black voters in East Carroll.  Rejecting those challenges, the district court found that an at-large plan did not dilute voting strength of the black population. Accordingly, the district court ordered a reapportionment that police jury and school board elections be conducted pursuant to an at-large scheme of voting under which the parish was divided into seven wards. Appellant sought review from the district court's requirement of reapportionment.

Issue:

Did district court err in rejecting arguments that an at-large electoral scheme would work a diminution of the black voting strength in the parish?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The court held that the district court erred in finding that the at-large plan did not dilute the black vote in the parish. While at-large and multi-member districting schemes were not per se unconstitutional, where a petitioner could demonstrate that its members had less opportunity than did other residents in the district to participate in the political processes and to elect legislators of their choices, such districting schemes were constitutionally infirm. The record revealed facts sufficiently within its purview to warrant a repudiation of at-large elections in the parish. The district court erred in rejecting appellant's contention that the at-large electoral scheme would work a diminution of the black voting strength in the parish. The court vacated and remanded the district court's decision.

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