Strickland v. Burns

Decision Date01 July 1966
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 4010.
Citation256 F. Supp. 824
PartiesRoscoe L. STRICKLAND, Jr., et al. v. T. P. BURNS et al.
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Tennessee

Thomas Wardlaw Steele, Gullett, Steele & Sanford, Nashville, Tenn., for plaintiffs.

William T. Sellers, Murfreesboro, Tenn., Edwin F. Hunt, Reber F. Boult, Jr., Boult, Hunt, Cummings & Conners, Nashville, Tenn., for defendants.

Before HARRY PHILLIPS,* Circuit Judge, and WILLIAM E. MILLER and FRANK GRAY, Jr., District Judges.

OPINION

GRAY, District Judge.

This action was instituted by plaintiffs for a declaratory judgment that the provisions of Chapter 426 of the Private Acts of Tennessee, 1943, as amended, pertaining to the apportionment of the Rutherford County School Commission, violate rights secured to them by the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States and are, therefore, void. Injunctive relief was also sought.1

The parties entered into a stipulation with thirteen numbered paragraphs. It, together with exhibits, is attached as an Appendix, and references to it hereinafter are to the numbered paragraphs.

The Act in question provides that the School Commission be composed of eleven members, one commissioner being elected from each of the eleven school zones created by the Act. Each commissioner has one vote on the business transacted by the Commission. (Stipulation 4.) The Commission's powers include, inter alia, the hiring of teachers and other school employees, regulation of pupil transportation, the approval of an annual school budget and the purchase of supplies and equipment. The Commission has no tax-levying powers. (Stipulation 9.)

The school zones are unequally populated. The Fifth School Zone,2 of which the plaintiffs are residents and qualified voters, contains at least one-third of the county's total population and is from three to fifteen times more populous than the other zones. (Stipulation 5 and 6.)

Plaintiffs contend that this wide disparity between the population of their zone and that of the other zones dilutes the efficacy of their votes and deprives them of equal representation on the Commission. Defendants acknowledge the disparity but assert that the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment does not require that local representative government, or at least a local representative governmental body which is primarily administrative rather than legislative in character, conform to the "one man, one vote" standard of Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533, 84 S.Ct. 1362, 12 L.Ed.2d 506; WMCA, Inc. v. Lomenzo, 377 U.S. 633, 84 S.Ct. 1418, 12 L.Ed.2d 568; Maryland Committee for Fair Representation v. Tawes, 377 U.S. 656, 84 S.Ct. 1429, 12 L.Ed.2d 595; Davis v. Mann, 377 U.S. 678, 84 S.Ct. 1441, 12 L.Ed.2d 609; Roman v. Sincock, 377 U.S. 695, 84 S.Ct. 1449, 12 L.Ed.2d 620; Lucas v. Colorado General Assembly, 377 U.S. 713, 84 S.Ct. 1459, 12 L.Ed. 2d 632.3

In Reynolds and the related cases, the Supreme Court held that the fundamental principle of representative government in this country is one of equal representation for equal numbers of people and that any system of apportionment by which the weight of a citizen's vote is diluted when compared with the votes of citizens living in other areas is violative of rights secured by the Equal Protection Clause. Reynolds was decided in the context of state legislative apportionment and, as defendants assert, the Court emphasized the fact that state legislatures are, historically, the fountainhead of representative government in this country. Nevertheless, the rationale of the Reynolds decision, that is, that it constitutes invidious discrimination to dilute the efficacy of votes because of the residence of the voters, is logically as applicable to the backwaters of representative government at the local level as to the fountainhead of representative government at the state level.

A review of the decisions, since Reynolds, wherein the courts have considered questions of apportionment of local governmental bodies, indicates that a substantial majority of the courts have arrived at this same conclusion.

In Ellis v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, 352 F.2d 123 (1965), the Fourth Circuit, speaking through Judge Sobeloff, held that "the `one man, one vote' principle, * * * logically applies to councilmanic no less than to statewide apportionment."

In Bianchi v. Griffing, 238 F.Supp. 997 (E.D.N.Y.1965), the court held that a county board of supervisors must be representative of the voters of the county "as the Supreme Court has indicated is required of legislative bodies under the Equal Protection Clause" (at p. 1004).

In Delozier v. Tyrone Area School Board, 247 F.Supp. 30 (W.D.Pa.1965), the court held void a plan of representation of elected school directors as in violation of the Equal Protection Clause, saying: "Nor do we believe that the status of a local school district, being an arm or agency of the state legislature to administer its educational system makes it immune from the constitutional requirement." (at p. 34)

To the contrary was the decision in Johnson v. Genesee County, Michigan, 232 F.Supp. 567 (E.D.Mich.1964), rendered three days after the decision in Reynolds. In that case, the court held that the composition of local units of government was a state matter, and that the court was not free to consider the subject of the apportionment of representation on local legislative bodies. The court relied upon the fact that the Supreme Court had not specifically overruled Tedesco v. Board of Supervisors of Elections, 339 U.S. 940, 70 S.Ct. 797, 94 L.Ed. 1357 (1950), wherein an appeal of a Louisiana state court case was dismissed in a per curiam decision "for want of a substantial federal question." That case involved the apportionment of seats on a city council according to wards which were unequal in population. Although this court cannot say with certainty that Tedesco was "not brought under the Equal Protection Clause," as was said by the court in Delozier, supra, (247 F.Supp. at page 33) it does seem certain that the state court decision appealed to the Supreme Court did not specifically consider the possible application of the Equal Protection Clause. Tedesco v. Board of Supervisors of Elections La. App., 43 So.2d 514.

A similar result was reached by the majority in Moody v. Flowers, 256 F. Supp. 195, (M.D.Ala.), rendered June 10, 1966.

Lynch v. Torquato, 343 F.2d 370 (3rd Cir. 1965), is not considered apposite. In that case the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that the Equal Protection Clause did not cover the internal workings of a political party's county organization. It affirmed the "citizen's constitutional right to equality as an elector, as declared in the relevant Supreme Court decisions" but held that such right "applies to the choice of those who shall be his elected representatives in the conduct of government, not in the internal management of a political party." (at p. 372)

The plaintiffs herein have established that their individual votes in electing members of the Rutherford County School Commission have been substantially diluted by the provisions of the Act complained of. They have established that the only basis for such dilution is their place of residence. No showing has been made by defendants that would justify the discrimination.

We hold, therefore, that the discrimination existing is invidious. Since we can find no basis for applying the "one man, one vote" rule to the congeries of powers possessed by the Legislature itself and at the same time denying its application to a subordinate body simply because it possesses a fractional part of those powers, so long at least as the fractional part cannot be said to be insignificant or unimportant, we must also hold that the apportionment provisions of the Act complained of are void as violative of rights secured by the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The provision of proper relief to implement this decision has given this court much concern. We believe that the formulation of a constitutionally acceptable method of selecting a board to administer the schools of the county is more properly a legislative function than a judicial one. The next General Assembly of the State of Tennessee will be a validly apportioned body for the first time in many years. Baker v. Carr, 247 F.Supp. 629 (M.D.Tenn.1965). The significance of this, however, is materially diminished by the fact that the defeat or passage of local legislation, such as the Act in question or any amendment or repeal thereof, is determined, under practices of the General Assembly, by the will of the local representative, or representatives, in the House and Senate, with rare exceptions. (Stipulation 12.)

Nevertheless, injunctive relief will not be ordered at this time. If a constitutionally permissible scheme is not enacted into law by the General Assembly of Tennessee in its regular session in 1967, the court will entertain further application for relief. Pending adjournment of such session, this court will retain jurisdiction of this action.

Counsel will submit an appropriate order within ten (10) days.

APPENDIX

STIPULATION

The plaintiffs and the defendants, as evidenced by the signatures of their respective attorneys of record affixed hereto, hereby stipulate that the following facts are true and may be considered by the Court as proven and as uncontroverted evidence in the trial of this cause without the necessity of calling any witnesses to prove or establish the same:

1. Plaintiffs are each and all citizens of the United States of America and of the State of Tennessee and are all qualified voters and taxpayers of Rutherford County, Tennessee, who are entitled to vote for members of the Rutherford County School Commission and other elective offices of Rutherford County, Tennessee. Plaintiffs are each and all residents of the Fifth School Zone, which...

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