ACLU Files Lawsuit Against Ferguson School District For Alleged Racial Discrimination, Violation of Voting Rights Act
Jan 11, 2016 11:02 PM EST
A federal trial commenced Monday, which tackled the issue of proper representation of minorities in the school board of the Ferguson-Florissant School District in Missouri.
Three Ferguson residents, together with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and NAACP, filed the case to seek a revision of the voting system for the school board elections. According to the plaintiffs, African-Americans have been under-represented on the board of a school district where they consist nearly 80% of the overall student population.
According to St. Louis Today, the school board election in 2000 was littered with discrimination as the top choices of white people won all the time. The top choice of African-American voters, who were also black, consistently lost the race.
The Ferguson-Florissant School District and the St. Louis County Board of Elections are being sued by community members Redditt Hudson, Willis Johnson and Doris Bailey for allegedly violating the Voting Rights Act, Al Jazeera noted.
In the complaint filed on December 2014, plaintiffs alleged that African-American voters "are denied the ability to elect candidates of their choice by the existing at-large voting system."
As of the date of the filing, the board only had one African-American member.
The at-large election system requires school board members to be elected by the whole district instead of by individual neighborhoods or smaller districts. The system results in the belittling of the voting power in neighborhoods where majority of population are black, curtailing their ability to elect African-American representatives.
"Ferguson's long history of shutting African-Americans out of the electoral process continues to affect its school system," Julie Ebenstein said, who is the attorney representing ACLU's Voting Rights Project. "This is unfair and unlawful."
Ebenstein suggests the adoption of two regional voting system under which seven districts would have a corresponding seat in the school board.
A system where individual neighborhoods get to choose their own school board member is being lobbied by ACLU. This would allow a more diverse representation as compared to a district-wide vote. According to the 2010 Census, voting-age white residents still outnumber voting-age black residents.
In its defense, the school district, through its attorney, said their method of conducting the elections does not violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
"On the contrary, we will show that the Ferguson-Florissant School District has a long history of African-American representation under the existing rules," said Cindy Ormsby, the lawyer representing the district.
The trial is expected to ensue for about a week, after which U.S. District Judge Rodney Sippel will make his decision.
Dr. Colin Gordon, a history professor at the University of Iowa, said that the centuries-old racial discrimination in the St. Louis area has developed a culture of wealth segregation by race. Gordon said, "White families were able to get on an escalator of wealth generation" through land ownership.
ACLU emphasizes further that the socioeconomic divide between blacks and white has an effect on the former's ability to participate in society.