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Rogers v. Lodge

    Brief Fact Summary. The Appellants, Rogers and seven other black citizens from Burke County, Georgia (Appellants) challenged the constitutionality of an at-large voting scheme that violated the United States Constitution (Constitution) despite the scheme’s racial neutrality.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Racially-neutral voting schemes do not necessary pass constitutional muster when there is a showing that the scheme actual perpetuates racial discrimination.

    Facts. A 1980 Census for Burke County, Georgia revealed that 53.6% of the population was comprised of black citizens and that black citizens comprised of 38% of the voting population. Whites within Burke County “constitute a slight majority of the voting population.” Burke County is governed by the Board of Commissioners consisting of five members who are elected at large to concurrent four-year terms by all those qualified to vote within Burke County. To be nominated, a candidate must receive a majority of the vote in the first primary or general election. Voters are allowed only one vote. No black has ever been elected to the Burke County Board of Commissioners. The Appellants challenged the constitutionality of the at-large voting scheme in federal district court on behalf of all black citizens in Burke County. The district court held that the even though the voting scheme was found to be “racially neutral when adopted, [it] [was] being maintained for invidious purposes” in violat
    ion of the Appellants’ Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendment Rights. The Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court’s judgment holding that the voting scheme was maintained for discriminatory purposes. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed.

    Issue. Whether the at-large system of elections in Burke County, Georgia violates the Fourteenth Amendment rights of Burke County’s black citizens despite being racially – neutral in its application.

    Held. Justice Byron White (J. White). Yes. The at-large voting scheme, although racially neutral, was maintained for invidious or discriminatory purposes. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed.

    Dissent. Justice Lewis Powell (J. Powell). The Supreme Court of the United States’ affirmation of the District Court and the Court of Appeals finding that the Burke County electoral voting scheme maintained a discriminatory purpose, despite its racially-neutrality, was based on insufficient factors pursuant to Mobile v. Bolden, 446 U.S. 55 (1980). The factors espoused by the lower courts “are too attenuated as a matter of law to support an inference of discriminatory intent . . .”

    Discussion. Voting schemes cannot hide under the veil of racial-neutrality when it maintains a racially-discriminatory intent.


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