505 F.2d 674 (5th Cir. 1974), 74-1766, Robinson v. Commissioners Court, Anderson County

Docket Nº:74-1766.
Citation:505 F.2d 674
Party Name:Frank J. ROBINSON et al., Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. COMMISSIONERS COURT, ANDERSON COUNTY, and the Honorable N. R. Link, County Judge, Anderson County, Texas, Defendants-Appellants.
Case Date:December 23, 1974
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
 
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Page 674

505 F.2d 674 (5th Cir. 1974)

Frank J. ROBINSON et al., Plaintiffs-Appellees,

v.

COMMISSIONERS COURT, ANDERSON COUNTY, and the Honorable N.

R. Link, County Judge, Anderson County, Texas,

Defendants-Appellants.

No. 74-1766.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

December 23, 1974

Page 675

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Richard Brooks Hardee, Tyler, Tex., Jerry L. Calhoon, Billy H. Gragg, Palestine, Tex., for defendants-appellants.

David R. Richards, Austin, Tex., for plaintiffs-appellees.

Before GOLDBERG, GODBOLD and MORGAN, Circuit Judges.

GOLDBERG, Circuit Judge:

This case results from a gerrymander of precinct lines in Anderson County, Texas, to dilute the black vote in County Commissioner elections. Unfortunately, the disrespect of voting rights is not a recent innovation in county government in Texas. See generally, Graves v. Barnes, W.D.Tex.1972 (3 judge), 343 F.Supp. 704, aff'd in part sub nom. White v. Regester, 1973, 412 U.S. 755, 93 S.Ct. 2332, 37 L.Ed.2d 314; Avery v. Midland County, 1968, 390 U.S. 474, 88 S.Ct. 1114, 20 L.Ed.2d 45. Nor, unfortunately, is unconstitutional dilution of voting rights only a very old part of our history. See, e.g., Graves v. Barnes, W.D.Tex.1974 (3 judge), 378 F.Supp. 640. Caesar found Gaul divided into three parts. Here we are confronted with a County Commissioners Court which has cut the county's black community into three illogical parts in order to dilute the black vote in precinct elections, acting as a modern Caesar dissecting its private Gaul. Such apportionment poisons our representative democracy at its roots. Our constitution cannot abide it.

The district court ordered reapportionment by a prescribed plan, and we affirm its decision. We are always reluctant to displace apportionment decisions from the legislative hands to which they are ordinarily entrusted; our reluctance in this case is overcome by our profound disappointment in the irresponsibility of the exercise to which the local legislative body has devoted itself.

I

On December 21, 1973, Plaintiffs-Appellees Frank J. Robinson, Rodney Howard, and Timothy S. Smith, black residents and registered voters of Anderson County, Texas, initiated this suit in the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Texas against the Commissioners Court and the County Judge of Anderson County (hereinafter Commissioners Court), charging that the then existing apportionment of Anderson County into election precincts was constitutionally unsound under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. The Commissioners Court, presided over by the County Judge, is the governing body of Anderson County and is invested with statutory responsibility for districting. Texas Const. Art. 5 Sec. 18, Vernon's Ann.St.

After a January 30, 1974, hearing on plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction,

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the district court entered an order on February 9, 1974, postponing deadlines for the party primaries preceding the Anderson County Commissioners general election. On February 9, the Court also entered an order joining as Defendants Louise C. Graser, Democratic Chairwoman of Anderson County, and Billy Gragg, Republican Chairman. These added defendants were served February 20, 1974, with process requiring an answer within twenty days. On March 5, 1974, the district court held a hearing on the merits, at which the plaintiffs presented a proposed reapportionment plan. The defendant party chairpersons were not present at the March 5 hearing. 1 On March 15, the district court issued an opinion, concluding that the existing precinct lines in Anderson County constituted 'a racially motivated gerrymander (prohibited by) Wright v. Rockefeller, 1964, 376 U.S. 52, 84 S.Ct. 603, 11 L.Ed.2d 512, and Gomillion v. Lightfoot, 1960, 364 U.S. 339, 81 S.Ct. 125, 5 L.Ed.2d 110, as well as an apportionment scheme operating to minimize or cancel out the voting strength of the black community, White v. Regester, 1973, 412 U.S. 755, 93 S.Ct. 2342, 37 L.Ed.2d 314; Whitcomb v. Chavis, 1971, 403 U.S. 124, 91 S.Ct. 1858, 29 L.Ed.2d 363.' Accordingly, the district court entered an order enjoining the Commissioners Court from failing to reapportion the election precincts in a manner consistent with the plaintiffs' proposed plan, awarding costs and attorneys' fees against the Commissioners Court, and enjoining defendants Graser and Gragg from failing to postpone certain filing deadlines for the upcoming primaries. Gragg and the Commissioners Court appeal the district court's March 15, 1974 order. 2 The Commissioners Court argues that the district court was in error in concluding that the existing apportionment plan was constitutionally unsound, that the Commissioners Court was improperly denied an opportunity to submit an alternate plan or to be heard on the feasibility of the adopted plan, and that the reapportionment plan adopted by the district court constituted an impermissible gerrymander itself. Defendant Gragg argues that he was improperly enjoined without a hearing. We affirm the district court's reapportionment order; we dismiss Gragg's appeal as moot, and thus vacate the postponement order insofar as it binds him.

II

According to 1970 census figures, which the trial court correctly relied upon as its best evidence of current population distribution, Anderson County contains a population of 27,789. Palestine, the county seat and most significant municipality, has a population of 14,525. Whites make up 20,737 (75%) of the total county population, blacks 6,972 (25%); in Palestine the population is 10,753 (74%) white, and 3,712 (26%) black. The area of greatest black concentration in the county lies in the southwest quadrant of the City of Palestine, within census enumeration districts 21, 22 and 23. Of the 2,219 residents within these census districts, 1,835 (83%) are black; thus, this concentration represents approximately 26% Of Anderson County's total black population.

Anderson County is divided into four precincts, each of which elects one Commissioner to the County Commissioners Court. The County Judge is elected at large. Before 1969, one precinct included the entire of the City of Palestine with its half of the county population and the remaining expanse of the county

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was divided among the three other precincts.

In 1969, the Commissioners Court reapportioned Anderson County on the basis of voter registration statistics. Each new precinct contained a part of Palestine. More significantly, the black concentration in Palestine was diced into three parts, each in a different new precinct. In September, 1973, the Commissioners Court modified its 1969 districting, effective January 1, 1974, but preserved the fragmentation of the black community along the same lines.

Plaintiffs maintain that the black vote in Anderson County was unconstitutionally diluted by means of this apportionment. 3 The standards for decision in dilution cases are developed primarily in cases dealing with multimember districting. See e.g., White v. Regester, 1973, 412 U.S. 755, 765-770, 93 S.Ct. 2332, 2339, 37 L.Ed.2d 314, 324-326; Whitcomb v. Chavis, 1971, 403 U.S. 124, 91 S.Ct. 1858, 29 L.Ed.2d 363; Burns v. Richardson, 1966, 384 U.S. 73, 88, 86 S.Ct. 1286, 1294, 16 L.Ed.2d 376, 388, Fortson v. Dorsey, 379 U.S. 433, 439, 85 S.Ct. 498, 501, 13 L.Ed.2d 401, 405; Turner v. McKeithen, 5 Cir. 1973, 490 F.2d 191; Zimmer v. McKeithen, 5 Cir. 1973 (en banc), 485 F.2d 1297. But

we have no hesitation in applying (those tests to) measure . . . the constitutionality of reapportionment plans involving only single-member districts. In each instance, we are required to determine the same question, whether or not there has been an unconstitution manipulation of electoral district boundaries so as to minimize or dilute the voting strength of a minority class or interest.

Howard v. Adams County Board of Supervisors, 5 Cir. 1972, 453 F.2d 455, 458 n. 2. We recognized in Zimmer v. McKeithen, supra, 485 F.2d at 1305 that 'the Supreme Court has identified a panoply of factors, any number of which may contribute to the existence of dilution.' Some of these are applicable in their detail only in the context of multimember districting. The most significant and general factors also obtain in cases such as the matter at bar, however, where the dilution of a racial group's voting strength has been arranged by shifting single-member precinct boundaries. Thus,

where a minority can demonstrate a (legal, customary, or practical) 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 (the established) districting or that the existence of past discrimination in general precludes the effective participation in the election system, a strong case is made . . .. The fact of dilution is established upon proof of the existence of an aggregate of these factors. The Supreme Court's recent pronouncement

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in White v. Regester, supra, demonstrates, however, that all these factors need not be proved in order to obtain relief.

Id. See also Turner v. McKeithen, 5 Cir. 1973, 490 F.2d 191, 194.

These standards compel the conclusion that the district court was correct in ruling that the black vote in Anderson County was unconstitutionally diluted under the Commissioners Court's apportionment. To begin with, we find sufficient evidence to support the district court's findings that in a general but realistic way the voting strength of the black community in Anderson County 'continues to suffer from the effect of oppressive and restrictive voting legislation and racial discrimination generally in the State of Texas. See White v. Regester, (supra, and that) the Commissioners Court of Anderson County has been generally unresponsive to the needs and interests of the black community . . ..'...

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