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BOSSIER PARISH SCH. BD. v. RENO

November 2, 1995

BOSSIER PARISH SCHOOL BD., Plaintiff,
v.
JANET RENO, Defendant, and GEORGE PRICE, ET AL., Defendant-Intervenors.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: LAURENCE H. SILBERMAN; RICHEY

Before Silberman, U.S. Circuit Judge, Richey, and Kessler, U.S. District Judges.

 Opinion for the court filed by Circuit Judge SILBERMAN, in which District Judge RICHEY joins.

 Opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part filed by District Judge KESSLER.

 INTRODUCTION

 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.

 I.

 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. *fn1"

 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. *fn2" The School Board has 12 members elected from single-member 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. *fn3" 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. *fn4"

 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. *fn5"

 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 incumbents. The plan does not distribute the school district's schools evenly among the electoral districts: some have several schools, others have none.

 On January 4, 1993, the School Board submitted its proposed redistricting plan to the Attorney General. On March 5, 1993, the Attorney General requested more information on the redistricting plan, which the School Board provided. On August 30, 1993, the Attorney General interposed a formal objection to the School Board's plan. The Attorney General's letter indicated that, while the identical Police Jury plan had been precleared, the Attorney General objected on the basis of "new information." The Attorney General noted that an alternative plan which showed "that black residents are sufficiently numerous and geographically compact so as to constitute a majority in two single-member districts" and which was preferred by members of the black community had been presented to and rejected by the School Board. The Attorney General further cited the School Board's failure to "accommodate the requests of the black community."

 The Attorney General's objection letter stated that, while the School Board was not required to "adopt any particular plan, it is not free to adopt a plan that unnecessarily limits the opportunity for minority voters to elect their candidates of choice." The Attorney General rejected the School Board's argument that the Louisiana statute concerning splitting precincts was sufficient reason not to create majority-black districts.

 On September 3, 1993, the School Board unanimously voted to seek reconsideration of the objection from the Attorney General. On December 20, 1993, the Attorney General denied the Board's request for reconsideration. The School Board filed this action on July 8, 1994. On April 10 and 11, 1995, this matter was tried before a single judge of this panel, pursuant to an agreement of the parties. The record of those proceedings has been provided to the other two judges on the panel and closing argument was conducted before the entire panel on July 27, 1995.

 In the course of this litigation, defendant-intervenors have prepared two more plans that provide for two majority-black districts. Both plans were prepared by defendant-intervenor's witness, William Cooper. The first plan (Cooper I) provides for one majority-black district in the northwestern corner of the parish and one in Bossier City. The second plan (Cooper II) is not materially different. Neither of these plans was before the ...


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