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CITY OF PORT ARTHUR v. UNITED STATES

June 12, 1981

CITY OF PORT ARTHUR, TEXAS, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES of America, et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: RICHEY

MEMORANDUM OPINION

 With the consent of the parties, *fn2" evidence consisting of numerous depositions, exhibits, and the in-court testimony of several witnesses was initially presented to a single judge. Complete copies of the record were then distributed to the two other judges. Ultimately, the full three-judge court heard oral argument on all aspects of the case.

 Upon consideration of the entire record herein, we conclude that plaintiff's request for a declaratory judgment must be denied. Although we are convinced that the territorial expansion was accomplished without a discriminatory purpose, the subsequently adopted election plans were fatally infected by such an intent. Moreover, the implementation of any of the voting schemes presented would most probably have the effect of abridging the electoral rights of Port Arthur's minority communities. With respect to the advisory councils, we find the absence of a discriminatory purpose and the presence of a discriminatory effect. The opinion which follows sets forth our findings of fact and conclusions of law in accordance with Rule 52 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

 I. FACTUAL FINDINGS

 A. General Background

 Plaintiff City of Port Arthur ("Port Arthur" or "the City") is a municipality located on the southeastern boundary of the State of Texas. It lies approximately 90 miles east of Houston in the southern portion of Jefferson County on the salt-grass marshland adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico. Sabine Lake and the Sabine-Neches waterway border the City on the south while the municipalities of Nederland, Groves, and Port Neches pose a barrier to the north and east. West of Port Arthur is a wildlife management area and several large petroleum company complexes. Due to the location of the City and the resources at hand, the population is primarily engaged in oil refining, petro-chemical manufacturing, sea-faring, and related occupations. *fn3"

 Within the general area occupied by Port Arthur are four communities which are of central concern in this litigation. The Town of Lakeview ("Lakeview"), the City of Griffing Park ("Griffing Park"), and the City of Pear Ridge ("Pear Ridge") are all incorporated entities covering less than one square mile each. Lakeview overlooks Lake Sabine and is surrounded on all sides by Port Arthur. Situated one mile to the north is Griffing Park which edges Groves on the east and Pear Ridge on the north-west but is otherwise enveloped by the plaintiff City. Aside from its shared border with Griffing Park, Pear Ridge is totally enclosed by Port Arthur. Finally, there is a fourth unincorporated area known as Sabine Pass which is situated eight miles to the south of the City. *fn4"

 By contrast, the four communities mentioned above have far fewer and predominantly white residents. *fn6" The total population of Pear Ridge, Lakeview and Sabine Pass, for example, was 8,407 in 1970 and only 6,509 in 1980. *fn7" In those same areas, blacks numbered 103 or 1.23% and Mexican-Americans, 720 or 8.56% in 1970; by 1980, there were 111 or 1.71% black and 723 or 11.11% Hispanic citizens. Individuals of voting age totalled only 5,575 of whom 63 or 1.13% were black in 1970.

 B. Historical Background of Port Arthur

 1. Political history to 1963

 The City of Port Arthur was founded in 1898, and it has operated under its own Charter since March 8, 1932, in accordance with the so-called "home-rule amendment" of the Texas Constitution. *fn8" City officials were elected by at-large vote until 1954. *fn9" Then, between 1954 and 1963, Port Arthur adopted the commission-manager form of government and the single-member district or ward system. *fn10" Each of the seven commissioners was required to be a resident of the district which he or she represented, and each was elected by only the qualified voters in the district. The commissioners served two year terms with four of the commissioners elected at one time and the remaining three elected the following year. It was necessary that candidates receive a majority of the vote in order to get elected. Following each election, one of the seven commissioners was selected by the commission to serve as mayor.

 Throughout the period when this single-member district plan was in effect, the districts were essentially drawn on a north-south axis parallel to the named avenues of the City. *fn11" The black population was heavily concentrated in District 1, the area west of Houston Avenue, *fn12" and the commission regularly included a single black member elected from that district between 1954 and 1963. *fn13" Beginning with the construction of the first urban renewal project in 1957, a significant number of blacks began to move eastward across Houston Avenue into the traditional white residential areas which constituted the other election districts. ...


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