On January 7, 2019, the Supreme Court of the United States denied certiorari in Ferguson-Florissant School District v. Missouri Conference of NAACP.  This case involves the Ferguson-Florissant School District (“FFSD”), a St. Louis area school district created after a 1975 desegregation order required the original FFSD to annex two neighboring school districts “to achieve a meaningful desegregation” within one unified district. United States v. Missouri, 515 F.2d 1365, 1366 (8th Cir. 1975) (en banc).

This lawsuit challenged FFSD’s method of electing school board members. The suit alleged that the at-large, popular vote, system, in which people only vote once for a candidate, was racially biased against African-American candidates.  This lawsuit was originally filed in 2014, when six of the seven school board members were Caucasian, even though about four-fifths of FFSD’s student population was African-American and approximately fifty percent of its voting age population was African-American.

The plaintiffs sued FFSD for vote dilution under section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, color, or membership.  To establish a Section 2 claim, the plaintiffs must show, among other things, that members of a racial minority “have less opportunity than other members of the electorate to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice.” See 52 U.S.C. § 10301.

After a six-day bench trial, the trial court found that (1) the NAACP had proved the preconditions for a section 2 claim and (2) the totality of the circumstances indicated that the district’s African-American voters had less opportunity to elect their preferred candidate than other members of the electorate.  In July 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the trial court’s findings that the at-large electoral process used by FFSD unlawfully diluted the voting power of the district’s African-American residents.  The Supreme Court’s decision to deny certiorari leaves this ruling in place.

What This Means for K-12 Schools

Because of the Supreme Court’s decision not to review the Eighth Circuit’s ruling in this case, the trial court’s finding that FFSD’s at-large election method violates the federal Voting Rights Act remains in place.  Therefore, FFSD’s election procedures will have to be changed by the April 3, 2019 election.  This decision is reminder that school districts should ensure that their election methods are non-discriminatory.  For questions about your school district’s compliance, please contact your Husch Blackwell education attorney.

Photo of Theresa Mullineaux Theresa Mullineaux

Theresa focuses her practice on commercial litigation and represents clients in a wide variety of industries, including education, financial services, healthcare, and manufacturing. She has experience in all stages of litigation, including fact investigations, initial pleadings, dispositive motions, motions in limine, discovery, depositions, and trial strategy. Theresa is also a member of the St. Louis Cortex team, helping startup companies navigate the legal environment.

Photo of Aleks Ostojic Rushing Aleks Ostojic Rushing

As a licensed teacher, Aleks’ passion for education runs deep and is at the core of her work with clients. She knows that every client and every student requires a unique approach to optimize success. Aleks counsels K-12 and higher education clients on investigations, litigation and compliance matters arising from a wide range of civil rights and educational funding issues. These include Title IX, Title IV, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family Educational Records Privacy Act (FERPA).

Photo of John W. Borkowski John W. Borkowski

 

Coming from a family of teachers, John knows that educators are dedicated to serving students and society. His lifelong passion for education underlies the insightful counsel he provides to colleges, universities and school districts.