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City of Mobile v. Bolden

    Brief Fact Summary. The Petitioner, the City of Mobile (Petitioner), has a 3-person council. The councilmen run in an open election, where the majority vote getters are awarded seats on the council. Although the Petitioner City has a large black population, it has never had a black councilman.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Legislative apportionment could violate Equal Protection, if the purpose was to minimize or cancel out the voting potential of minorities.

    Facts. The Petitioner City has a 3-person council. Each councilman runs for an open seat on the council and is elected by a majority vote. He will then serve a term of four years. State law governs this design of government. The Respondent, Bolden (Respondent), alleges that his voting rights have been adversely affected by this method of election, as evidenced by the lack of any black persons in the city council. The district court found invidious discrimination and the court of appeals affirmed.

    Issue. Does the at-large system of municipal voting violate the rights of the black voters of the Petitioner City?

    Held. No. Reverse Court of Appeals.
    There is no indication that this type of government was developed to purposely prevent a black person from being mayor. State action that is racially neutral on its fact violates the Fifteenth Amendment only if it is motivated by a discriminatory purpose. Multi-member legislative districts will only be found unconstitutional when their purpose is to minimize the voting power of racial minorities. It is not enough only to show that minority council members were not elected in proportion to their percentage of the total population.

    Dissent. Justice Byron White (J. White) argued that there is no basis for the majority opinion that the Respondent needs to show a discriminatory intent.

    Discussion. To prove discrimination, the minority group needs to show more than a disproportionate number of representatives in the government. Past discrimination is also not enough to make a government configuration unlawful.


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