Bossier Parish School Bd. v. Reno, Civ. A. No. 94-1495 (LHS (USCA)

Decision Date02 November 1995
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 94-1495 (LHS (USCA)
PartiesBOSSIER PARISH SCHOOL BD., Plaintiff, v. Janet RENO, Defendant, and George Price, et al., Defendant-Intervenors.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia


James J. Thornton, Jr. and Frank Ferrell of Johnston & Thornton, Shreveport, Louisiana, presented the evidence, for Plaintiff. The pleadings and briefs were written by James J. Thornton, Jr. of Johnston & Thornton, Shreveport, Louisiana.

Nancy J. Sardeson, Steven Mulroy, and Gay Hume, Voting Section, Civil Rights Division, United States Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., presented the evidence, for Defendant. With them on the pleadings and briefs were Elizabeth Johnson, Rebecca Wertz, and John K. Tanner, Voting Section, Civil Rights Division, United States Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.; Deval Patrick, Assistant Attorney General, Washington, D.C.; and Eric H. Holder, Jr., United States Attorney, Washington, D.C.

Patricia A. Brannan of Hogan & Hartson, Washington, D.C., and Samuel Walters of The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Washington, D.C., presented the evidence, for Defendant-Intervenors. With them on the pleadings and briefs was John W. Borkowski of Hogan & Hartson, New Orleans, Louisiana.

Before SILBERMAN, Circuit Judge, RICHEY, and KESSLER, District Judges.


SILBERMAN, Circuit Judge.


Plaintiff, Bossier Parish School Board, seeks preclearance under section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1973c, for its proposed redistricting. We shall grant the requested preclearance.


Bossier Parish is located in northwestern Louisiana, bordered on the north by Arkansas. As reported by the 1990 census, Bossier Parish's population is 86,088, of whom 20.1% are black. Blacks constitute 17.6% of the voting age population of Bossier Parish and 15.5% of its registered voters. Bossier City, the Parish's most populous city, is located in the central western portion of the Parish and has a population of 52,721, of whom 17.95% are black. The black population is also concentrated in Benton, Plain Dealing, Haughton, and in the unincorporated community of Princeton.

Bossier Parish is governed by a Police Jury, the 12 members of which are elected from single-member districts for consecutive four-year terms. At no time in Parish history have the Police Jury electoral districts included a district with a majority of black voters. Since 1983, however, a black police juror, Jerome Darby, has been elected three times from a majority-white district, the last time unopposed.1

The Police Jury undertook to redraw its electoral districts because of population shifts, as reflected in the 1980 census, that resulted in widely divergent populations among the existing districts. In November 1990, the Police Jury hired a cartographer, Gary Joiner, to assist in the process. At a public hearing on the Police Jury redistricting, black residents inquired about the possibility of creating majority-black districts, and were told that the black population of Bossier Parish was too far-flung to create any such district. On April 30, 1991, the Police Jury unanimously adopted one of the plans prepared by their cartographer as the final plan. The plan served the police jurors' incumbency concerns, and roughly provided for an even distribution of population among the districts. That same day, Concerned Citizens, a group of black residents of Bossier Parish, submitted a letter to the Police Jury complaining about the manner in which the redistricting plan was prepared and adopted. The plan was forwarded to the Attorney General on May 28, 1991, and, on July 29, 1991, the Attorney General precleared it. On January 11, 1994, the Police Jury unanimously voted to maintain the redistricting plan precleared by the Attorney General.

The Bossier Parish School Board is constituted much like the Police Jury.2 The School Board has 12 members elected from singlemember districts to consecutive four-year terms. Both the Police Jury and School Board electoral districts have majority voting requirements: a candidate must receive a majority of the votes cast, not merely a plurality, to win an election. In the School Board's history, no black candidate has been elected to membership on the Board, though, as is discussed infra, one black School Board member was appointed to a vacant seat in 1992.

The Board, like the Police Jury, was also required to redraw its districts after the 1990 census. In fact, members of the Board had approached the Police Jury about the prospect of jointly redistricting, but were rebuffed by police jurors with incumbency concerns divergent from those of the School Board members.3 The next scheduled election for the School Board was not until November 1994, and the School Board did not undertake the task of redistricting with particular urgency. In May 1991, the Board hired the same cartographer who had assisted the Police Jury with its redistricting, Gary Joiner. When he was hired, Joiner informed the Board that one readily available option was the Police Jury plan which had already been precleared by the Attorney General and which, if adopted by the Board, was sure to be precleared again. When he was hired, Joiner estimated that the redistricting would require 200 to 250 hours of his time.

At a Board meeting in September 1991, Board member Thomas Myrick suggested that the Board adopt the Police Jury plan. Myrick had participated in a number of meetings with Joiner and police jurors during their redistricting. No action was taken on Myrick's proposal.

On March 25, 1992, George Price, president of the local chapter of the NAACP and a defendant-intervenor in this case, wrote to the Board to express the NAACP's desire to be involved in every aspect of the redistricting process. Price received no response to his letter and, on August 17, 1992, wrote again, this time to say that the NAACP would dispute any plan that did not provide for majority-black districts. At an August 20, 1992 meeting of the School Board, Price presented a number of proposals concerning the management of the school district to the School Board, including the appointment of a black to fill the vacancy on the Board created by a Board member's departure. Sometime during August 1992, Board members met individually with Joiner to review different options for redistricting.4

During the summer of 1992, the NAACP Redistricting Project in Baltimore, Maryland prepared a redistricting plan for the School Board that included two majority-black districts. Price presented the results of these efforts, a partial plan demonstrating the possibility of two majority-black districts, to a School Board official. Price was told that the School Board would not consider a plan that did not set forth all 12 districts. Price brought just such a plan to the September 3, 1992 meeting of the School Board. At that meeting, both Joiner and Bossier Parish District Attorney, James Buller, dismissed the NAACP plan because the plan required splitting a number of voting precincts.5

Under Louisiana law, school board districts must contain whole voting precincts (i.e., they may not split voting precincts). See Louisiana Revised Statutes, Title 17, § 71.3E.(1) ("The boundaries of any election district for a new apportionment plan from which members of a school board are elected shall contain whole precincts established by the parish governing authority...."). While there has been dispute over the matter, the parties have stipulated that school boards redistricting around the time the Bossier Parish School Board was redistricting were "free to request precinct changes from the Police Jury necessary to accomplish their redistricting plans." Stip ¶ 23. Defendant-intervenors' witness, David Creed, testified that he himself had routinely drawn redistricting plans that split precincts. The largest number of precincts that Creed had ever split was eight — far fewer than the 46 precinct splits resulting under the NAACP plan that was presented to the Board or any other plan proffered since by defendant or defendant-intervenors. In any event, the School Board never approached the Police Jury to request precinct changes.

On September 10, 1992, the School Board interviewed candidates for the one vacant seat on the School Board. By a six-to-five vote, the School Board appointed the only black candidate, Jerome Blunt. Defendant-Intervenors contend that this appointment came despite "bitter opposition from white voters." D-I Br. at 15. On September 17, 1992, Blunt was sworn in as a Board member. His term in office lasted six months, ending in a special-election defeat to a white candidate. The vacant seat to which Blunt was appointed represented a district with the population that was 11% black.

At the same meeting during which Blunt took the oath of office, the School Board passed a motion of intent to adopt the Police Jury plan. The School Board announced that a public meeting would be held on September 24, 1992, with final action to be taken on the plan on October 1, 1992.

At the September 24, 1992 meeting, the School Board meeting room was filled to overflowing. Price presented the Board with a petition signed by more than 500 residents of the Parish asking that the Board consider alternative redistricting plans. Additionally, a number of black residents addressed the Board to express their opposition to the proposed Police Jury plan. No one spoke in support of the plan. On October 1, 1992, the School Board unanimously adopted the Police Jury plan. Although he had taken office in time to vote on the plan, Jerome Blunt abstained. One other School Board member, Barbara W. Gray, was absent and did not vote.

The plan adopted by the School Board pits two pairs of incumbents against each other, leaving two districts with no...

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