Zimmer v. McKeithen

Decision Date12 September 1973
Docket NumberNo. 71-2649.,71-2649.
Citation485 F.2d 1297
PartiesCharles F. ZIMMER, Plaintiff, Stewart Marshall, Intervenor-Appellant, v. John J. McKEITHEN et al., Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit



Stanley A. Halpin, Jr., Debra A. Millenson, George M. Strickler, Jr., New Orleans, La., for intervenor-appellant.

Frank R. Parker, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, George Peach Taylor, Jackson, Miss., David Tatel, Lawyers' Comm., for Civil Rights Under Law, Washington, D. C., for amicus curiae.

William J. Guste, Jr., Atty. Gen. of La., Baton Rouge, La., William B. Ragland, Jr., Lake Providence, La., for defendants-appellees.


GEWIN, Circuit Judge:

Aristotle has written:

If liberty and equality, as is thought by some, are chiefly to be founded in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in the government to the utmost.1

This case evokes a consideration of the extent to which the Constitution of the United States compels adherence to this principle. Specifically, we are called upon to determine under what circumstances an apportionment scheme operates to minimize or cancel out the voting strength of racial or political elements of the voting population.2 Appellant contends that the district court order, affirmed by a majority of a panel of this court, 467 F.2d 1381, requiring reapportionment for the school board and police juries in East Carroll Parish3 under an at-large scheme of elections cannot pass muster under the aforementioned standard. Both the district court and a majority of a panel of this court held that an at-large scheme cannot work a dilution of black voting strength where blacks, though constituting a minority of registered voters, comprise a majority of the total population of the parish.4 Upon rehearing en banc, this court finds the aforementioned conclusion infirm, and therefore we vacate and remand the district court's judgment.


The panel opinion, recounting the facts which spawned this litigation and the protracted proceedings which it entailed, obviates the need for a full exposition of the present posture of this case. Consequently, we shall highlight only those facts particularly germane to our disposition.

East Carroll is a rural parish located in the extreme northeast corner of Louisiana. According to the 1970 census, it has a population of 12,884, of which 7,568, or 58.7% are black. Until recently, blacks in the parish, like all blacks in Louisiana, suffered from the maintenance of dual school systems, and the interposition of an interpretation test which preconditioned qualification for voting. Additionally, from 1922 to 1962, no black resident of the Parish had been permitted to register to vote. With the removal of state and locally imposed impediments to voting, and through the efforts of federal registrars, registration statistics in the parish changed dramatically. As of October 6, 1971, there were 3,342 whites and 777 blacks registered on the East Carroll rolls and an additional 2,122 federally registered black voters in the parish.5 Concurrent with the increased registration of black voters, elections under the predecessor ward system produced two black members of the policy jury and one black school board member.

The change from ward to at-large elections challenged herein was produced by the entry in 1968 of a district court order in a suit where petitioners sought to insure fidelity to the one-man, one-vote principle of Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533, 84 S.Ct. 1362, 12 L.Ed.2d 506 (1964). Three years elapsed between the entry of this order and the renewal of proceedings precipitated by instructions issued by the district court that East Carroll submit a reapportionment plan in light of the 1970 census. Pursuant to these instructions, the Parish Police Jury resubmitted the 1968 at-large plan for approval. Subsequently, appellant Marshall was permitted to intervene on behalf of himself and all other similarly situated black voters in East Carroll, and challenge the propriety of the at-large plan as contravening the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments of the Constitution and Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.6 After the hearing conducted on July 29, 1971, the district court found, inter alia, that since under the at-large plan, there was a zero population deviation, the at-large plan did not dilute the voting strength of the black population. Accordingly, the district court ordered that police jury and school board elections be conducted pursuant to an at-large scheme of voting under which the parish was divided into 7 wards. Under this scheme, 6 of the wards were to elect 1 representative to the police jury and school board, and 1 ward was to elect 3 representatives. Although candidates were required to reside in the ward from which they sought election, they were to be voted upon by registered voters in the entire county.

Marshall urged several grounds for reversal on appeal: first, that the district court was without power to order at-large elections because under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Attorney General of the United States had tendered an objection to the Louisiana Statutes which prescribed at-large elections for police juries and school boards;7 second, that the district court applied an improper legal standard in evaluating dilution ; and third, that the district court was clearly erroneous in finding that at-large elections do not dilute the voting strength of black voters in the parish. All three contentions were rejected by the panel.8

On rehearing, Marshall challenged the panel's disposition on all three grounds. Since we find his last two challenges meritorious, we need not consider his first contention concerning Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.9


Before proceeding further, we feel it is important to emphasize the posture in which the issues are presented in the instant case. The panel understood Marshall to contend that the district court abused its discretion in adopting a plan that did not comport with Connor v. Johnson, 402 U.S. 690, 91 S.Ct. 1760, 29 L.Ed.2d 268 (1971). We do not understand Marshall to make this contention. Consequently, we need not consider whether, absent an allegation that an at-large scheme unconstitutionally dilutes the voting strength of a minority, the district court's approval of an at-large scheme would amount to an abuse of discretion under Connor.

Marshall's contention here is that the judicially approved at-large plan is unconstitutional,10 not merely indiscrete. Having identified Marshall's contention, we turn to a consideration of first, the proper standard for testing dilution, and second, whether the district court erred in finding that there was no dilution in the instant case.

We begin by noting that the concept of population in fair representation cases is not possessed of any talismanic quality. The Supreme Court recently affirmed this proposition in Gaffney v. Cummings, where it stated that "if it is the weight of a person's vote that matters, total population—even if stable and accurately taken—may not actually reflect that body of voters whose votes must be counted and weighed for purposes of reapportionment, because `census persons' are not voters."11 Indeed, Reynolds v. Sims, supra and its progeny12 marked a departure from statistical niceties. Consequently, to rely upon population statistics, to the exclusion of all other factors, is to give these statistics greater sanctity than that which the law permits or requires.

More fundamentally, the application of the population measure to this case is premised upon a misunderstanding of the thrust of the dilution problem presented in this case. Inherent in the concept of fair representation are two propositions : first, that in apportionment schemes, one man's vote should equal another man's vote as nearly as practicable ;13 and second, that assuming substantial equality, the scheme must not operate to minimize or cancel out the voting strength of racial elements of the voting population. Both the Supreme Court and this court have long differentiated between these two propositions.14 And although population is the proper measure of equality in apportionment, in Whitcomb v. Chavis, 403 U.S. 124, 149-150, 91 S.Ct. 1858, 29 L. Ed.2d 363 (1971) and White v. Regester, supra, 412 U.S. at 765, 93 S.Ct. at 2339, 37 L.Ed.2d at 324, the Supreme Court announced that access to the political process and not population was the barometer of dilution of minority voting strength.

The district court applied a per se rule that since blacks were a majority in East Carroll Parish, the at-large plan could not possibly submerge their vote. Since in White v. Regester, supra, the Supreme Court affirmed a district court's finding of dilution in Bexar County even though Mexican-Americans comprised a numerical majority of the population in that county, the per se rule applied by the district court below cannot withstand scrutiny. The panel also relied upon the fact that blacks in East Carroll comprised a majority of population in reaching its conclusion, but pointing to the size of the parish's population, it qualified the standard applied by the district court. We feel that this qualification, invoked to differentiate the instant case from Connor v. Johnson, 402 U.S. 690, 692, 91 S.Ct. 1760, 29 L.Ed.2d 268 (1971) where the Supreme Court announced a preference for single-member districts in "large" districts, is of no moment where, as here, a showing of dilution has been made. The legal standards announced by the Supreme Court in Whitcomb v. Chavis, supra, and White v. Regester, supra in determining submergence admit of no distinction on the...

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