Bolden v. City of Mobile, Alabama

Decision Date28 October 1976
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 75-297-P.
Citation423 F. Supp. 384
PartiesWiley L. BOLDEN et al., Plaintiffs, v. CITY OF MOBILE, ALABAMA, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Alabama

J. U. Blacksher, Larry Menefee and Gregory B. Stein, Mobile, Ala., Edward Still, Birmingham, Ala., Jack Greenberg, James M. Nabrit, III, and Charles E. Williams, III, New York City, for plaintiffs.

C. B. Arendall, Jr. and David A. Bagwell, S. R. Sheppard, City of Mobile Legal Department, Mobile, Ala., for defendants.


PITTMAN, Chief Judge.

This action is brought by Wiley L. Bolden and other black plaintiffs representing all Mobile, Alabama, blacks as a class, claiming the present at-large system of electing city commissioners abridges the rights of the city's black citizens under the First, Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States; under the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 1973, et seq.

Plaintiffs alleged that the existing commission form of government elected at-large "... discriminates against black residents of Mobile in that their concentrated voting strength is diluted and canceled out by the white majority in the City as a whole" with a consequent violation of their rights under the above Amendments to the Constitution. It is also claimed that their statutory rights under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1973, et seq. Voting Rights Act of 1965 and 1983 Civil Rights Act of 1871 were violated. Jurisdiction is premised upon 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3) and (4).

This court has jurisdiction over the claims based on 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City Commissioners and over the claims grounded on 42 U.S.C. § 1973 against all defendants under 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3)-(4) and § 2201.

This cause was certified as a class action under Rule 23(b)(2), F.R.C.P., the plaintiff class being all black persons who are now citizens of the City of Mobile, Alabama.

A claim originally asserted under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) was dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

Defendants are the three Mobile City Commissioners, sued in both their individual and official capacities.

The prayed-for relief consists of, (1) a declaration that the present at-large election system is unconstitutional, (2) an injunction preventing the present commissioners from holding, supervising, or certifying any future city commission elections, (3) the formation of a government whose legislative members are elected from single member districts, and (4) costs and attorney fees.

Plaintiffs claim that to prevail they must prove to this court's satisfaction the existence of the elements probative of voter dilution as set forth by White v. Regester, 412 U.S. 755, 93 S.Ct. 2332, 37 L.Ed.2d 314 (1973), and Zimmer v. McKeithen, 485 F.2d 1297 (5th Cir. 1973) (en banc), aff'd. sub nom. East Carroll Parish School Board v. Marshall, 424 U.S. 636, 96 S.Ct. 1083, 47 L.Ed.2d 296 (1976), contending Zimmer is only the adoption of specified criteria by the Fifth Circuit of the White dilution requirements.

The defendants stoutly contest the claim of unconstitutionality of the city government as measured by White and Zimmer. They contend Washington v. Davis, 426 U.S. 229, 96 S.Ct. 2040, 48 L.Ed.2d 597 (1976), erects a barrier since the 1911 legislative act forming the multi-member, at-large election of the commissioners was without racial intent or purpose. They assert Washington, supra, 96 S.Ct. at 2047-49, which was an action alleging due process and equal protection violations, held that in these constitutional actions, in order to obtain relief, proof of intent or purpose to discriminate by the defendants must be shown. Defendants state, therefore, that since the statute under which the Mobile Commission government operates was passed in 1911, with essentially all blacks disenfranchised from the electorate by the Alabama 1901 constitution, there could be no intent or purpose to discriminate at the time the statute was passed. Alternatively, however, defendants contend that if Washington does not preclude consideration of the dilution factors of White and Zimmer, they should still prevail because plaintiffs have not sustained their burden of proof under these and subsequent cases.

Plaintiffs' reply is to the effect that Washington did not establish any new constitutional purpose principle and that White and Zimmer still are applicable. If, however, this court finds Washington to require a showing of racial motivation at the time of passage, or merely in the retention of the statute, plaintiffs contend they should still prevail, claiming the at-large election system was designed and is utilized with the motive or purpose of diluting the black vote. Plaintiffs claim that the discriminatory intent can be shown under the traditional tort standard.


Mobile, Alabama, is the second largest city in Alabama located at the confluence of the Mobile River and Mobile Bay in the southwestern part of the state. Mobile's 1970 population was 190,026 with approximately 35.4% of the residents black.1 1973 Mobile County voters statistics estimate that 89.6% of the voting age white population is registered to vote, 63.4% of the blacks are registered. (Plaintiffs' Exhibit No. 7).

Mobile geographically encompasses 142 square miles. Most of the white residents live in the southern and western parts of the city, while most blacks live in the central and northern sectors (Plaintiffs' Exhibit No. 58). Housing patterns have been, and remain, highly segregated. Certain areas of the city are almost totally devoid of black residents while other areas are virtually all black. In a recent study by the Council on Municipal Performance, using 1970 block census data, Mobile was found to be the 95th most residentially segregated of the 109 municipalities surveyed (Plaintiffs' Exhibit No. 59). According to a study performed by the University of South Alabama Computer Center for the defendants, the housing patterns in the city are so segregated it is impossible to divide the city into three contiguous zones of equal population without having at least one predominantly black district (Plaintiffs' Exhibit No. 60). Segregated housing patterns have resulted in concentration of black voting power.

Mobile presently operates under a three person commission-type municipal government adopted in 1911. (Ala. Act No. 281 (1911) at 330). The commissioners are elected to direct one of the following three municipal departments: Public Works and Services, Public Safety, and Department of Finance.2

The commissioners run on a place-type ballot and are elected at-large by the voters of Mobile. While the commission candidates must be residents of Mobile, there is not now, or has there ever been, a requirement that each commissioner reside in a particular part of the city. The evidence clearly indicates that district residence requirements with district elections would be improvident and unsound for the commission form of government.

In addition to the specific position for which a commissioner runs, each is also responsible for numerous appointments to the 46 committees operating under the auspices of the city. Some appointments are completely discretionary with the commissioner whereas committees, such as the plumbing and air conditioning boards which require members with a certain amount of expertise, are filled with a nominee suggested by the local trade association. Often, the appointing commissioner makes his appointment from the slate of nominees presented by the particular association. This means that if the nominating association does not propose a black as a committee member, the commissioner will not appoint one. It is, however, within the commission's power to modify or change the ground rules under which appointments are made.

In Zimmer, supra, aff'd. sub nom. East Carroll Parish School Board, supra (".. but without approval of the constitutional views expressed by the Court of Appeals."), the Fifth Circuit synthesized the White opinion with the Supreme Court's earlier Whitcomb v. Chavis, 403 U.S. 124, 91 S.Ct. 1858, 29 L.Ed.2d 363 (1971), decision, together with its own opinion in Lipscombe v. Jonsson, 459 F.2d 335 (5th Cir. 1972) and set out certain factors to be considered.

Based on these factors as set out in Zimmer, supra, at 1305, the court makes the following findings with reference to each of the primary and enhancing factors:


Mobile blacks were subjected to massive official and private racial discrimination until the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It has only been since that time that significant diminution of these discriminatory practices has been made. The overt forms of many of the rights now exercised by all Mobile citizens were secured through federal court orders together with a moral commitment of many of its dedicated white and black citizens plus the power generated by the restoration of the right to vote which substantially increased the voting power of the blacks. Public facilities are open to all persons. Job opportunities are being opened, but the highly visible job placements in the private sector appear to lead job placements in the city government sector. The pervasive effects of past discrimination still substantially affects political black participation.

There are no formal prohibitions against blacks seeking office in Mobile.3 Since the Voting Rights Act of 1965, blacks register and vote without hindrance. The election of the city commissioners is non-partisan, i. e., there is no preceding party primary and the candidates do not ordinarily run under party labels. However, the court has a duty to look deeper rather than rely on surface appearance to determine if there is true openness in the process and determine...

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21 cases
  • United States v. Dallas County Com'n, Civ. A. No. 78-578-H.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Alabama
    • September 10, 1982
    ...indicates a state policy in favor of the Marengo County procedure, the Court rather being of the opinion that, as in Bolden, v. City of Mobile, 423 F.Supp. 384 supra, the state policy is neutral. See, e.g. Kirksey v. City of Jackson, 461 F.Supp. 1282, 1291 (S.D.Miss. 1978) (There is lacking......
  • United States v. Dallas County Com'n, Civ. A. No. 78-578-H.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Alabama
    • September 3, 1982
    ..."which usually results in the defeat of the black candidate or the white candidate identified with the black". Bolden v. City of Mobile, 423 F.Supp. 384, 388 (S.D.Ala., 1976), aff'd 571 F.2d 238 (5th C.C.A., 1978), rev. 446 U.S. 55, 100 S.Ct. 1490, 64 L.Ed.2d 47 (1980). As previously discus......
  • Clark v. MARENGO CTY., Civ. A. No. 77-445-H
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Alabama
    • April 23, 1979
    ...employment, and social opportunities for black citizens, there can be no question, as this Court noted in Bolden v. City of Mobile, 423 F.Supp. 384, 387 (S.D.Ala.1976), aff'd, 571 F.2d 238 (5th Cir. 1978) (per Pittman, Ch. J.), but that "the pervasive effects of past discrimination still su......
  • City of Mobile, Alabama v. Bolden
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • March 19, 1979
    ...and replaced by a municipal government consisting of a Mayor and a City Council with members elected from single-member districts. 423 F.Supp. 384.3 The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment in its entirety, 5th Cir., 571 F.2d 238 , agreeing that Mobile's at-large elections operated to di......
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2 books & journal articles
  • The Mobile City Government Case: 1975-1982
    • United States
    • Alabama State Bar Alabama Lawyer No. 77-2, March 2016
    • Invalid date
    ...not work with single-member districts, he ordered a change in the form of government to a mayor-council form. Bolden v. City of Mobile, 423 F.Supp. 384 (S.D. Ala. 1976). The Fifth Circuit affirmed, Bolden v. City of Mobile, 571 F.2d 239 (5th Cir. 1978). The U.S. Supreme Court reversed, and ......
  • The multimember district: a study of the multimember district and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
    • United States
    • Albany Law Review Vol. 66 No. 1, September 2002
    • September 22, 2002
    ...79 Stat. 437 (1965) (current version at 42 U.S.C. [subsection] 1971, 1973 to 1973bb-1 (2000)). (70) See Bolden v. City of Mobile, 423 F. Supp. 384, 399-400 (analyzing the constitutionality of a districting plan based on the effects of the plan), rev'd, 446 U.S. 55 (1980). The lower court re......

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