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US Supreme Court Upholds Ruling On Ferguson-Florissant School Board Elections

File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal Monday over a lawsuit challenging the way the Ferguson-Florissant School District elects school board members. The district will switch to cumulative voting in April.

Updated with comment from the school district and plaintiff — The Ferguson-Florissant Board of Education has to switch to a weighted voting system for its April elections, as ordered by a federal judge more than two years ago.

The U.S. Supreme Court Monday declined to hear the appeal by the Ferguson-Florissant School District, codifying a lower court ruling and bringing an end to a lawsuit first brought by the ACLU and NAACP in 2014.

“Now that this court case has come to a successful conclusion, all parties should focus on the ultimate objective: a Ferguson-Florissant School Board that is responsive to the needs of the community," said Tony Rothert, legal director for the American Civil Liberty Union of Missouri, in a statement.

The ACLU of Missouri sued in December 2014, a few months after Michael Brown was killed by a police officer, arguing that black voters in the district were disenfranchised because while nearly 83 percent of students in the district are black, the majority of school board members are white. The racial makeup of voting-aged adults in the district is closer to 50-50.

Because of the ruling, voters will be allowed to vote for a preferred candidate as many times as there are open seats — for example, in an election with two open seats, a district resident could cast a vote for two people or put both their votes toward a single candidate.

Ferguson-Florissant parent Redditt Hudson (left), attorney Dale Ho, and past school candidate Willis Johnson at a news conference announcing a lawsuit against the Ferguson-Florissant schools on December 18.
Credit File | Diane Balogh | ACLU of Missouri
Ferguson-Florissant parent Redditt Hudson (left), attorney Dale Ho, and past school board candidate Willis Johnson at a news conference announcing a lawsuit against the Ferguson-Florissant schools on Dec. 18, 2014.

A federal court judge in St. Louis first ruled in August 2016 the way school board members in Ferguson-Florissant are elected violates the rights of African-American voters. That decision was upheld last July following an appeal. With the U.S. Supreme Court refusing to hear the case, appeals have been exhausted.

At the time of the lawsuit, there was one black member of the seven-member board. The school board is now more closely split with four white members and three black members, a figure the district has highlighted in its legal defense.

“It should be noted that since the time the lawsuit was filed, African-American representation on the Board has increased under the current state election law,” said Board of Education President Courtney Graves in a joint statement with the district. “We are disappointed by the Court’s response.”

Graves added the district is working with the ACLU and St. Louis County Board of Elections to be ready for the switch to the new voting system for its next election, which is in April.

"I am much more comfortable knowing there are policy and law in place that allows us to elect the people we want to serve on the board and not be subject to political winds," said Redditt Hudson, a former parent of students in the district and plaintiff on the original lawsuit.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

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