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GOOSBY v. TOWN BD. OF HEMPSTEAD

February 20, 1997

DOROTHY GOOSBY, SAMUEL PRIOLEAU, XAVIER MORALES, and MILADYS MORALES, Plaintiffs, against TOWN BOARD OF THE TOWN OF HEMPSTEAD, NEW YORK, GREGORY P. PETERSON, RICHARD A. ZAGARINO, CURTIS FISHER, JOSEPH RA, ANTHONY SANTINO, JOSEPH KEARNEY, in their official capacities as members of the Town Board of the Town of Hempstead, NASSAU COUNTY BOARD OF ELECTIONS, JOHN DeGRACE and STEVEN SABBETH, in their official capacities as Commissioners of Elections of Nassau County, Defendants.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: GLEESON

 JOHN GLEESON, United States District Judge:

 This is an action brought under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 42 U.S.C. § 1973, and the First, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Plaintiffs, African-American *fn1" citizens of the Town of Hempstead (the "Town"), challenge the at-large voting practice used in the Town to elect the six Councilmembers who sit on the Town Board of the Town of Hempstead (the "Town Board"). Plaintiffs contend that this system dilutes the voting strength of the minority population in the Town in violation of the Voting Rights Act, and seek an order directing the implementation of a single-member district election system.

 This decision is arranged in three parts. Part I sets forth a brief overview of the legal principles governing claims under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Part II sets forth my findings of fact. Part III sets forth my conclusions of law.

 I conclude that plaintiffs have established a violation of Section 2 and are entitled to the relief they seek.

 I. OVERVIEW OF THE LEGAL PRINCIPLES GOVERNING CLAIMS UNDER SECTION 2 OF THE VOTING RIGHTS ACT

 Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as amended, reads in pertinent part as follows:

 
(a) No voting qualification or prerequisite to voting or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision in a manner which results in a denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color . . . .
 
(b) A violation of subsection (a) of this section is established if, based on the totality of circumstances, it is shown that the political processes leading to nomination or election in the State or political subdivision are not equally open to participation by members of a class of citizens protected by subsection (a) of this section in that its members have less opportunity than other members of the electorate to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice. The extent to which members of a protected class have been elected to office in the State or political subdivision is one circumstance which may be considered: Provided, That nothing in this section establishes a right to have members of a protected class elected in numbers equal to their proportion in the population.

 42 U.S.C. § 1973 (1994). There is no dispute that the at-large system for electing the members of the Town Board is an electoral practice that is subject to challenge under Section 2. In addition, it is clear that the 1982 amendments to Section 2 rejected the plurality opinion in Mobile v. Bolden, 446 U.S. 55, 64 L. Ed. 2d 47, 100 S. Ct. 1490 (1980), which sought to impose on Section 2 plaintiffs an obligation to prove that the challenged practice was adopted or maintained with the intent to discriminate against minority voters. Thornburg v. Gingles, 478 U.S. 30, 43-44, 92 L. Ed. 2d 25, 106 S. Ct. 2752 (1986).

 In Gingles, the Supreme Court identified three "preconditions" to a successful challenge to multimember districts under Section 2: (1) the minority group must be sufficiently large and geographically compact to constitute a majority in a single-member district; (2) it must be politically cohesive; and (3) the white majority must vote sufficiently as a bloc to enable it, in the absence of special circumstances, to defeat the minority's preferred candidate. 478 U.S. at 50-51. "Regarding the third prong, Gingles instructed that 'in general, a white bloc vote that normally will defeat the combined strength of minority support plus white "crossover" votes rises to the level of legally significant white bloc voting.'" NAACP v. City of Niagara Falls, 65 F.3d 1002, 1007 (2d Cir. 1995) (quoting Gingles, 478 U.S. at 56).

 The satisfaction of these three preconditions, which have come to be known as the "Gingles factors," is necessary but not sufficient to prove a Section 2 violation. More is required; if the preconditions are met, a district court must then consider whether, under the totality of the circumstances, the challenged practice impairs the ability of the minority voters to participate equally in the political process. City of Niagara Falls, 65 F.3d at 1007 (citing Gingles, 478 U.S. at 80). Thus, proof of the Gingles preconditions does not always portend liability under Section 2, Johnson v. De Grandy, 512 U.S. 997, 114 S. Ct. 2647, 2657 n.10, 129 L. Ed. 2d 775 (1994), but "it will only be the very unusual case in which the plaintiffs can establish the existence of the three Gingles factors but still have failed to establish a violation of § 2 under the totality of circumstances." City of Niagara Falls, 65 F.3d at 1019 n.21 (citing Jenkins v. Red Clay Consolidated School Dist. Bd. of Educ., 4 F.3d 1103, 1135 (3d Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 512 U.S. 1252, 129 L. Ed. 2d 891, 114 S. Ct. 2779 (1994)); Teague v. Attala County, 92 F.3d 283, 293 (5th Cir. 1996); Clark v. Calhoun County, 21 F.3d 92, 97 (5th Cir. 1994); see also Johnson v. De Grandy, 114 S. Ct. at 2657 n.10 (noting that § 2 challenges to multimember districts are likely to be easier plaintiffs' cases than challenges to electoral practices in single-member districts).

 In assessing the totality of the circumstances in which a challenged electoral practice is employed, a district judge must conduct a "searching practical evaluation of the 'past and present reality.'" Gingles, 478 U.S. at 45 (quoting S. Rep. No. 417, 97th Cong., 2d Sess. (1982) ("Senate Report") at 30, reprinted in 1982 U.S. Code Cong. & Admin. News ("U.S.C.C.A.N.") 177, at 208). This requires a fact-intensive, functional view of the political process, in an effort to determine whether the Town's political processes are equally open to participation by its black citizens. Id. at 45-46.

 Gingles identified as relevant to this inquiry the factors set forth in the Senate Report (which accompanied the 1982 amendments to Section 2), which are as follows:

 1. the extent of any history of official discrimination in the state or political subdivision that touched the right of the members of the minority group to register, to vote, or otherwise to participate in the democratic process;

 2. the extent to which voting in the elections of the state or political subdivision is racially polarized;

 3. the extent to which the state or political subdivision has used unusually large election districts, majority vote requirements, anti-single shot provisions, or other voting practices or procedures that may enhance the ...


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