Education

High Court Declines Missouri District’s Appeal Over At-Large Board Voting

By Mark Walsh — January 07, 2019 3 min read

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear the appeal of a Missouri school district over its at-large school board elections, which a federal appeals court struck down last year as a violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The case involves the Ferguson-Florissant district, which serves all or part of 11 municipalities in suburban St. Louis, including Ferguson, Mo., where the police shooting of an African-American man sparked weeks of racial unrest in 2014.

The seven-member Ferguson-Florissant school board was all white until 2014, the same year that Michael Brown was shot and killed in an altercation with a white police officer in Ferguson, sparking widespread street protests that focused on police and city policies.

One African-American joined the board in 2014 before the state chapter of the NAACP, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, sued the district alleging that the votes of black citizens were being diluted by the at-large voting system in violation of Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act. (There are now three African-American members on the board.)

A federal district court ruled in 2016 that the plaintiffs had proved the preconditions for a Section 2 vote-dilution claim and that the “totality of the circumstances” indicated that the district’s black voters had less opportunity to elect their preferred candidates than other members of the electorate.

Last July, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, in St. Louis, unanimously affirmed the district court’s ruling. The court rejected the school district’s argument that a racial minority group cannot win a Section 2 claim there because African-Americans make up a majority of the voting-age population in the school district, about 50.3 percent based on the Census Bureau’s 2011-13 American Community Survey.

“Minority voters do not lose VRA protection simply because they represent a bare numerical majority within the district,” the appeals court said.

The appeals court also said that the election of an African-American to the board in 2015, after the Michael Brown incident, could be construed as a “special circumstance” under the U.S. Supreme Court’s tests for applying the VRA. That meant the victory by the black candidate that year did not detract from the district court’s conclusion that there was white bloc voting that enabled the bloc to usually defeat the preferred candidate of minority voters.

In its appeal to the Supreme Court in Ferguson-Florissant School District v. Missouri State Conference of the NAACP (Case No. 18-592), the district pointed out that its at-large election system was required by state law. It said that the 8th Circuit court’s decision to permit a Section 2 case to go forward even when a minority group forms a numerical majority of voting-age population of the district conflicted with another circuit as well as Supreme Court precedent.

“Furthermore, this case raises issues of substantial importance as the district court has ordered a remedial plan (cumulative voting) that will only serve to harm the African-American community and undermine the very goals of the VRA,” the district said in its appeal. The district’s brief noted that the federal district court found that in Ferguson-Florissant school elections whites have tended to vote more along racial lines than African Americans have.

“If this is true the increased cohesiveness of the white vote will allow them to better exploit the cumulative voting system,” the brief said.

The NAACP plaintiffs did not file a response to the appeal, and the Supreme Court did not request one. The justices on Jan. 7 declined without comment to hear the school district’s appeal.

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.

Let us know what you think!

We’re looking for feedback on our new site to make sure we continue to provide you the best experience.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by Learning.com
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Speech Therapists
Lancaster, PA, US
Lancaster Lebanon IU 13
Elementary Teacher
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools
Elementary Teacher - Scholars Academy
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools

Read Next

Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of stories from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read