Stewart v. Parish School Bd. of Parish of St. Charles, Civ. A. No. 69-2818.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Louisiana)
Writing for the CourtWISDOM, Circuit , and CASSIBRY and MITCHELL
Citation310 F. Supp. 1172
PartiesFrank T. STEWART, Joseph Lepine, Cal Berry, Stanford Caillouet, Sr., Rayfield Lewis, Eddie Williams, and Garland Weber, Petitioners, v. The PARISH SCHOOL BOARD OF the PARISH OF ST. CHARLES, and School District No. 1 of the Parish of St. Charles, Respondents.
Decision Date25 February 1970
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 69-2818.

310 F. Supp. 1172

Frank T. STEWART, Joseph Lepine, Cal Berry, Stanford Caillouet, Sr., Rayfield Lewis, Eddie Williams, and Garland Weber, Petitioners,
v.
The PARISH SCHOOL BOARD OF the PARISH OF ST. CHARLES, and School District No. 1 of the Parish of St. Charles, Respondents.

Civ. A. No. 69-2818.

United States District Court, E. D. Louisiana, New Orleans Division.

February 25, 1970.


Wilmer G. Hinrichs, New Orleans, La., for plaintiffs.

Norman J. Pitre, Luling, La., Melvin P. Barre, Dist. Atty., 29th Judicial District, Edgard, La., E. E. Huppenbauer, Jr., J. Hugh Martin, Harold Judell, New Orleans, La., William P. Schuler, Asst. Atty. Gen., for defendants.

Before WISDOM, Circuit Judge, and CASSIBRY and MITCHELL, District Judges.

WISDOM, Circuit Judge:

This case involves the right to vote in a school bond election.

Louisiana laws, unlike the laws of thirty-six states, restrict eligibility to vote in bond elections to qualified voters who are "property taxpayers".1 In

310 F. Supp. 1173
such elections the affluence of the voter is made the electoral standard by a requirement no other State imposes on the electorate: Political subdivisions in Louisiana may issue bonds only if they are approved by a "majority in number and amount of the property" of the taxpayers who vote in the election.2 These laws deny the vote to parents, lessees, and others who have a direct and substantial stake in public education generally and in the proposition put to a vote, but by necessity or choice do not own real estate in the political subdivision where the election is held.3 By gearing the weight of each elector's vote to the amount of his assessed property the laws debase the vote of small landowners. We hold therefore that the exclusion of all non-property taxpayers and the dilution of the small property holder's vote violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment

* * *

The parties have stipulated the facts and have agreed to submit the case to the Court to be "disposed of on the matter of the issuance of a permanent injunction, the parties waiving their respective interests to a hearing on a temporary injunction".

The St. Charles Parish School Board on September 23, 1969, conducted a special election to decide whether the Parish School Board should be authorized to issue bonds to the amount of $5,250,000 for capital acquisition and improvement of public schools in the parish.4 There

310 F. Supp. 1174
are 10,275 registered voters in the Parish; 7808 are white and 2421 are Negro voters. The election was hard fought, perhaps because residents on one side of the Mississippi River were at odds with residents on the other side of the River.5 (All of the plaintiffs reside on the East bank.) Despite the public interest in the election, only 2,385 electors voted.6 The official tabulation showed that 1,271 voters, representing an assessed valuation of $1,650,168.50, voted in favor of authorizing the bond issue; 1,114 voters, representing an assessed valuation of $1,261,310, voted against the bond issue. The bond issue was approved therefore by a majority of 157 votes in number presumably representing an assessed valuation of $388,858.30

The plaintiffs brought this action on November 21, 1969, against the Parish School Board and School District No. 1, the sole and parish-wide school district in St. Charles Parish, to set aside the election and to enjoin the defendants from offering or selling the bonds.

The plaintiffs fall into two classes: (1) non-property taxpayers, who were ineligible to vote and (2) property taxpayers, who were eligible to vote but whose assessments were less than the assessments of others who voted in the election. In each class some of the plaintiffs have children enrolled in the public schools in St. Charles Parish; some do not.

I.

Certain principles involving voting rights apply to elections across the board. The one man, one vote canon of Reynolds v. Sims, 1964, 377 U.S. 533, 84 S.Ct. 1362, 12 L.Ed.2d 506, is such a principle: it bars dilution of the franchise. Avery v. Midland County, 1968, 390 U.S. 474, 88 S.Ct. 1114, 20 L.Ed.2d 45, extends the Reynolds v. Sims canon to subdivisions of a state including, of course, school districts. In Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections, 1966, 383 U.S. 663, 86 S.Ct. 1079, 16 L.Ed.2d 169, the Court, striking down the poll tax, concluded: "State law violates the Equal Protection Clause * * * whenever it makes the affluence of the voter or payment of any fee an electoral standard. Voter qualifications have no relation to wealth nor to paying or not paying this or any other tax! * * * Wealth, like race, creed, or color, is not germane to one's ability to participate intelligently in the electoral process. Lines drawn on the basis of wealth or property, like those of race * * * are traditionally disfavored." These three decisions are basic to our conclusions in this case.

310 F. Supp. 1175

II.

Two recent decisions of the Supreme Court control this case: Kramer v. Union Free School District, 1969, 395 U.S. 621, 89 S.Ct. 1886, 23 L.Ed.2d 583, and Cipriano v. City of Houma, 1969, 395 U. S. 701, 89 S.Ct. 1897, 23 L.Ed.2d 647.

In Kramer the Court considered a New York statute limiting the vote in local school board elections to parents and guardians of children attending public schools in the district and to residents who owned or leased taxable real property. The defendants contended that parents and guardians constituted a group "primarily" interested in school affairs, an interest not shared by the public generally. In Kramer, as in the case before this Court, the School District and the State contended that property owners and lessees of taxable property had a special interest in decisions affecting public schools, since the funds for such schools were derived almost entirely from the taxes paid on real property. The three-judge district court held that restricting voting to these two groups was "rational" and "within the limits of the State's power to fix" qualifications for voting. The court characterized the election of a school board as a special purpose election, distinguishing Harper which involved a general election. 282 F.Supp. 70 (E.D.N.Y.1968), on remand from 379 F.2d 491 (2nd Cir. 1967).

The Supreme Court, in a five to three opinion by Chief Justice Warren, held that the voting qualifications denied equal protection to the excluded voters. The Court pointed out, quoting from Reynolds v. Sims, that state statutory and constitutional provisions prohibiting the exercise of the voting franchise to some electors, while allowing it to others, must be "carefully and meticulously scrutinized"7 to determine "whether the exclusions are necessary to promote a compelling state interest".8 The Court found that the restrictions imposed by the New York statute "did not meet the exacting standard of precision we require of statutes which selectively distribute the franchise. The classifications * * * permit inclusion of many persons who have, at best, a remote and indirect interest in school affairs and, on the other hand, exclude others who have a distinct and direct interest in the school meeting decisions".9 The Court said: "The issue is not whether the legislative judgments are rational. A more exacting standard obtains. The issue is whether the * * * requirements do in fact sufficiently further a compelling state interest to justify denying the franchise to appellant and members of his class." Are those excluded "substantially less interested or affected than those the statute includes? In other words, the classifications must be tailored so that the exclusion of appellants and members of his class is necessary to achieve the articulated state goal."10

In Cipriano the law under attack was identical with the pertinent provisions under attack in the instant case in that it gave only "property taxpayers" the right to vote in elections called to approve an issue of revenue bonds by a municipal utility. The district court accepted the argument that because of the "special pecuniary interest" property owners have in a utility system the classification was a "rational" one. On the facts, the Supreme Court might have held that the classification failed to meet the test of rationality. Instead, the Court reiterated the exacting Kramer standard: The "Court must determine whether the exclusions are necessary to promote a compelling state interest".11 The voting restriction failed to meet that test.

In Kramer and Cipriano the Court declared that it was unnecessary to decide

310 F. Supp. 1176
whether a state might in some circumstances limit the franchise to those "primarily interested". But the standard established in those cases cannot be confined within the contexts of a school board election, which the defendants characterize as a "political" election, and a revenue bond election, which the defendants characterize as "proprietory" in nature. Thus, in Kramer the Court said: "Our exacting examination is necessitated not by the subject of the election; rather, it is required because some resident citizens are permitted to participate and some are not." 395 U.S. at 629, 89 S.Ct. at 1891

Kramer and Cipriano, with the aid of Reynolds v. Sims, Avery, and Harper, teach that laws restricting the right to vote — we say, in any election — do not carry the usual presumption of constitutionality. In other situations, for example, a graduated tax, the defenders of a statutory classification have the light burden of finding that the legislative scheme has a rational basis.12 Here they must meet "the exacting standard of precision" required of "statutes which selectively distribute the franchise". Here the Equal Protection Clause is not satisfied by a finding that it was reasonable to recognize the special interest property owners have in a bond issue; the laws are unacceptable if they exclude non-property electors who have a substantial stake in...

To continue reading

Request your trial
21 practice notes
  • Curtis v. Board of Supervisors
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • September 19, 1972
    ...owners.' (Id. at p. 212, 90 S.Ct. at pp. 1995--1996.) Finally, in Stewart v. Parish School Bd. of Parish of St. Charles (E.D.La.1970) 310 F.Supp. 1172 the federal district court held unconstitutional a Louisiana statute which limited the franchise in school bond elections to landowners, and......
  • Oregon v. Mitchell Texas v. Mitchell United States v. Arizona United States v. Idaho, Nos. 43
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • December 21, 1970
    ...the franchise.'6 Id., at 209, 90 S.Ct., at 1994. And as recently as November 9, 1970, we summarily affirmed a district court decision (310 F.Supp. 1172) on the basis of Kolodziejski. Parish School Board of St. Charles v. Stewart, 400 U.S. 884, 91 S.Ct. 136, 27 L.Ed.2d 129, where Louisiana g......
  • Salyer Land Company v. Tulare Lake Basin Water Storage District 8212 1456, No. 71
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • March 20, 1973
    ...of Vermillion Parish v. Hebert, 404 U.S. 807, 92 S.Ct. 52, 30 L.Ed.2d 39; Stewart v. Parish School Board of Parish of St. Charles, D.C., 310 F.Supp. 1172, aff'd, 400 U.S. 884, 91 S.Ct. 136, 27 L.Ed.2d 129. In my view, appellants in this case have made a sufficient showing to invoke the abov......
  • Stone v. Stovall, No. CA-4-1975.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Northern District of Texas
    • October 15, 1974
    ...who render for taxation personalty other than automobiles, but we doubt that many do. Cf. Stewart v. Parish School Board, E.D.La.1970, 310 F.Supp. 1172, aff'd mem., 400 U.S. 884, 91 S.Ct. 136, 27 L.Ed.2d 129. If, as a practical matter, nonautomobile personalty virtually is never rendered, a......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
21 cases
  • Curtis v. Board of Supervisors
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • September 19, 1972
    ...owners.' (Id. at p. 212, 90 S.Ct. at pp. 1995--1996.) Finally, in Stewart v. Parish School Bd. of Parish of St. Charles (E.D.La.1970) 310 F.Supp. 1172 the federal district court held unconstitutional a Louisiana statute which limited the franchise in school bond elections to landowners, and......
  • Oregon v. Mitchell Texas v. Mitchell United States v. Arizona United States v. Idaho, Nos. 43
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • December 21, 1970
    ...the franchise.'6 Id., at 209, 90 S.Ct., at 1994. And as recently as November 9, 1970, we summarily affirmed a district court decision (310 F.Supp. 1172) on the basis of Kolodziejski. Parish School Board of St. Charles v. Stewart, 400 U.S. 884, 91 S.Ct. 136, 27 L.Ed.2d 129, where Louisiana g......
  • Salyer Land Company v. Tulare Lake Basin Water Storage District 8212 1456, No. 71
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • March 20, 1973
    ...of Vermillion Parish v. Hebert, 404 U.S. 807, 92 S.Ct. 52, 30 L.Ed.2d 39; Stewart v. Parish School Board of Parish of St. Charles, D.C., 310 F.Supp. 1172, aff'd, 400 U.S. 884, 91 S.Ct. 136, 27 L.Ed.2d 129. In my view, appellants in this case have made a sufficient showing to invoke the abov......
  • Stone v. Stovall, No. CA-4-1975.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Northern District of Texas
    • October 15, 1974
    ...who render for taxation personalty other than automobiles, but we doubt that many do. Cf. Stewart v. Parish School Board, E.D.La.1970, 310 F.Supp. 1172, aff'd mem., 400 U.S. 884, 91 S.Ct. 136, 27 L.Ed.2d 129. If, as a practical matter, nonautomobile personalty virtually is never rendered, a......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT