Legislative apportionments could violate the Fourteenth Amendment if their purpose were invidiously to minimize or cancel out the voting potential of racial or ethnic minorities. To prove such a purpose it is not enough to show that the group allegedly discriminated against has not elected representatives in proportion to its numbers. A plaintiff must prove that the disputed plan has been conceived or operated as a purposeful device to further racial discrimination. T
A class action was brought in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama on behalf of a class of all Negro citizens of the City of Mobile, Alabama (a city which is governed by a commission consisting of three members elected at large who jointly exercise all legislative, executive, and administrative power in the city), alleging, among other things, that the defendant city's practice of electing commissioners at large by majority vote unfairly diluted the voting strength of Negroes in violation of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. The District Court, although finding that Negroes in the city registered and voted without hindrance, nonetheless held that the plaintiffs' constitutional rights had been violated, and entered a judgment in their favor, ordering that Mobile's city commission be disestablished and replaced by a municipal government consisting of a mayor and a city council composed of members selected from single-member districts. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed on appeal, agreeing that the at-large elections operated to discriminate against Negroes in violation of Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, and finding that the remedy formulated by the District Court was appropriate.
Does the city’s at-large election operate to discriminate against Negroes, in violation of the Fourteenth or Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution?
The Court held that, having found that Negroes in Mobile register and vote without hindrance, the lower courts erred in believing the Fifteenth Amendment was abridged. The Court held further that the evidence fell short of showing that the city and commissioners conceived or operated a purposeful device to further racial discrimination, a showing essential to prove an equal protection violation. The Court held that political groups do not have a right to claim representation independent from the right of individuals to vote on an equal basis.