424 U.S. 636 (1976), 73-861, East Carroll Parish School Board v. Marshall

Docket Nº:No. 73-861
Citation:424 U.S. 636, 96 S.Ct. 1083, 47 L.Ed.2d 296
Party Name:East Carroll Parish School Board v. Marshall
Case Date:March 08, 1976
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 636

424 U.S. 636 (1976)

96 S.Ct. 1083, 47 L.Ed.2d 296

East Carroll Parish School Board



No. 73-861

United States Supreme Court

March 8, 1976

Argued January 21, 1976



In adopting a multimember reapportionment plan for a Louisiana parish calling for the at-large election of certain parish officials to remedy malapportionment among the parish wards, the District Court, in the absence of special circumstances dictating the use of such a multimember arrangement, abused its discretion in not initially ordering a single member reapportionment plan.

485 F.2d 1297, affirmed.

Per curiam opinion.


The sole issue raised by this case is how compliance with the one-man, one-vote principle should be achieved in a parish (county) that is admittedly malapportioned. Plaintiff Zimmer, a white resident of East Carroll Parish, La., brought suit in 1968 alleging that population disparities among the wards of the parish had unconstitutionally

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denied him the right to cast an effective vote in elections for members of the police jury1 and the school board. See Avery v. Midland County, 390 U.S. 474 (1968). After a hearing the District Court agreed that the wards were unevenly apportioned and adopted a reapportionment plan suggested by the East Carroll police jury calling for the at-large election of members of both the police jury and the school board.2 The 1969 and 1970 elections were held under this plan.

The proceedings were renewed in 1971 after the District Court, apparently sua sponte, instructed the East Carroll police jury and school board to file reapportionment plans revised in accordance with the 1970 census. In response, the jury and board resubmitted the at-large plan. Respondent Marshall was permitted to intervene on behalf of himself and all other black voters in East Carroll. Following a hearing, the District Court again

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approved the multimember arrangement. The intervenor appealed,3 contending that at-large elections would tend to dilute the black vote in violation of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Over a dissent, a panel of the Court of Appeals affirmed,4 but, on rehearing en banc, the court reversed.5 It found clearly erroneous the District Court's ruling that at-large elections would not diminish the black voting strength of East Carroll Parish. Relying upon White v. Regester, 412 U.S. 755 (1973), it seemingly held that multimember districts were unconstitutional unless their use would afford a minority greater opportunity for political participation or unless [96 S.Ct. 1085] the use of single member districts would infringe protected rights.

We granted certiorari, 422 U.S. 1055 (1975), and now affirm the judgment below, but without approval of the constitutional views expressed by the Court of Appeals.6

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See Ashwander v. TVA, 297 U.S. 288, 346-347 (1936) (Brandeis, J., concurring).

The District Court, in adopting the multimember, at-large reapportionment plan, was silent as to the relative merits of a single member arrangement. And the Court of Appeals, inexplicably in our view, declined to consider whether the District Court erred under Connor v. Johnson, 402 U.S. 690 (1971), in endorsing a multimember plan, resting its decision instead upon constitutional grounds. We have frequently reaffirmed the rule that, when United States district courts are put to the task of fashioning reapportionment plans to supplant concededly invalid state legislation, single member districts are to be preferred absent unusual circumstances. Chapman v. Meier, 420 U.S. 1, 17-19 (1975); Mahan v. Howell, 410 U.S. 315, 333 (1973); Connor v. Williams, 404 U.S. 549, 551 (1972); Connor v. Johnson, supra at 692. As the en banc opinion of the Court of Appeals amply demonstrates, no special circumstances here dictate the use of multimember districts. Thus, we hold that, in shaping...

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