Rehearing and Rehearing En Banc Denied October 15, 1976.
GOLDBERG, Circuit Judge:
This case comes before us for the second time, our earlier decision having been vacated and remanded by the Supreme Court for reconsideration in light of East Carroll Parish School Board v. Marshall, 1976, 424 U.S. 636, 96 S.Ct. 1083, 47 L.Ed.2d 296 (per curiam), and Public Law 94-73 [42 U.S.C. § 1973l(e)].
East Carroll purports to defoliate the political thicket in which we have been wandering for some years. In our travels, we had, whenever possible, sought guidance from the local legislature, thereby seeking the goal of judicious redistricting through some constitutional route proposed by a representative body. We traversed this path in our original opinion, holding that where an existing apportionment plan has been held unconstitutional and the district court is put to the task of fashioning a remedial plan, it ought to defer to a constitutional plan preferred by the local legislative body. The Supreme Court's contemporary cartography commended this route to us.
In East Carroll, however, the Court declaimed that when the legislative body has once strayed from the path of constitutional rectitude and the district court is charged with fashioning a remedial apportionment plan, the court need pay no heed to the legislative preference for at-large districts. The Board of Aldermen of Ferriday, Louisiana, left that constitutional path by imposing on the town's citizens an all-at-large
We must review under the guidelines established in East Carroll the district court's choice of a single-member reapportionment scheme, and under the authority of 42 U.S.C. § 1973l(e) the lower court's award of attorneys' fees to plaintiffs. We affirm the district court's judgment on both questions, thereby bringing closer to resolution this dispute between the black citizens of Ferriday, Louisiana, and the Board of Aldermen, which proposed to supplant the town's unconstitutional all-at-large aldermanic election scheme with a plan that would retain one at-large member. To the town's black citizens, the single at-large seat retained in the Board's preferred plan represents the fulcrum of continued white political control.
I. The District Court's Choice of Districting Plans
On June 13, 1972, the black candidates for election to the Ferriday, Louisiana, Board of Aldermen filed this class action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in federal district court. Plaintiffs charged that Ferriday's all-at-large voting scheme impermissibly diluted the votes of local blacks and asked for appropriate declaratory and injunctive relief. The court ordered each party to submit alternative redistricting plans. The Board submitted two redistricting plans to the district court.
The Court found both the existing all-at-large plan and the Board's preferred mixed plan unconstitutional. The mixed plan was "clearly constitutionally infirm because of the special racially discriminatory effect of that plan in the context of this case." Wallace v. House, W.D.La.1974, 377 F.Supp. 1192, 1200. The mixed plan would have created two "safe" white seats and two "safe" black seats. The pivotal at-large aldermanic seat would likely have been controlled by Ferriday's white voting majority.
On appeal, it was conceded that Ferriday's all-at-large aldermanic election scheme operated to dilute the votes of the black citizens of the town in violation of their Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendment rights.
In Zimmer v. McKeithen, 5 Cir. 1973, 485 F.2d 1297 (en banc), aff'd sub nom. East Carroll Parish School Board v. Marshall, 1976, 424 U.S. 636, 96 S.Ct. 1083, 47 L.Ed.2d 296 (per curiam), we reversed a district court decision approving an at-large reapportionment plan submitted by the East Carroll Police Jury. A district court had ordered a change from ward to at-large voting in East Carroll Parish in 1968. The Parish Police Jury subsequently resubmitted the at-large plan pursuant to a district court order to submit a reapportionment plan in light of the 1970 census. Black voters in East Carroll challenged the propriety of the plan under, inter alia, the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. The district court found that the at-large plan did not dilute black voting strength and ordered police jury and school board elections under the at-large plan.
In affirming our en banc decision, the Supreme Court found it unnecessary to reach the constitutional merits of the proffered at-large plan. The Court held simply that the district court had abused its discretion in failing initially to order a single-member reapportionment plan. The Court reaffirmed the rule "that when United States district courts are put to the task of fashioning reapportionment plans to supplant concededly invalid state legislation, single-member districts are to be preferred absent unusual circumstances." 424 U.S. at 639, 96 S.Ct. at 1085. Had the Court been articulating a new test, a remand might have been appropriate. But the Court, finding it "inexplicable" that our en banc opinion had declined to rest on this "frequently reaffirmed" rule, did not remand to determine whether there were special circumstances. Instead, the Court reasoned that the en banc opinion "amply demonstrates [that] no special circumstances here dictate the use of multimember districts."
East Carroll makes clear that in fashioning remedial relief subsequent to finding an existing apportionment plan unconstitutional, a federal district court must, absent special circumstances, order a single-member reapportionment plan. A district court need not reject an all-at-large or mixed plan as unconstitutional in order to justify its choice of an all-single-member plan. A reviewing court need not reach the constitutionality of the mixed plan to decide whether the district court's choice was proper. When district courts are forced to fashion reapportionment plans, the general rule is that single-member districts are to be preferred. East Carroll, supra, 424 U.S. 639, 96 S.Ct. at 1085; Chapman v. Meier, 1975, 420 U.S. 1, 17-19, 95 S.Ct. 751, 761-62, 42 L.Ed.2d 766, 778-80; Mahan v. Howell, 1973, 410 U.S. 315, 333, 93 S.Ct. 979, 989, 35 L.Ed.2d 320, 335; Connor v. Williams, 1972, 404 U.S. 549, 551, 92 S.Ct. 656, 658, 30 L.Ed.2d 704, 707; Connor v. Johnson, 1971, 402 U.S. 690, 692, 91 S.Ct. 1760, 1762, 29 L.Ed.2d 268 (per curiam).
Two paradigm situations will arise under this rule. In the first paradigm, a
Applying the rule reaffirmed in East Carroll to the facts of this case requires a three-stage inquiry. First, we must face the threshold question whether it can ever be an abuse of discretion for a district court, having found unconstitutional the existing apportionment plan, to order remedial relief in the form of single-member districting. Second, we shall decide, in light of the unique procedural posture of this case, whether we must remand to the district court for a finding of whether there were "special circumstances." Upon answering this question in the negative, we shall decide whether the district court abused its discretion by ordering a single-member plan.
East Carroll and other cases of the first paradigm tell us that a district court abuses its discretion if it orders at-large or multi-member districting absent special circumstances, but they cannot answer the threshold question here. Because cases discussing the matter generally say that a district court may order at-large districts if there are special circumstances,
On this assumption, however, there may be special circumstances that would suffice to justify a district court's exercise of discretion in ordering at-large districting but would not be sufficient for an appellate court to overturn a district court's discretionary choice of single-member districting. In other words, some special circumstances might justify a choice of at-large districting but would not compel that choice. This distinction is important in the instant case. It means that appellants' burden is particularly heavy, for they must show not merely that the district court could have ordered
Our second task is to decide whether to remand this case to the district court to decide whether there are sufficiently compelling special circumstances to require an at-large district. Since this case comes to us on remand from the Supreme Court after East Carroll, it might be argued that the district court has never had a chance to decide whether there were such special circumstances under East Carroll's test and that we should therefore remand. Four considerations prove fatal to this argument.
First, in East Carroll itself the Supreme Court faced a situation where, had the test required it, a remand would have been appropriate. The Court nevertheless chose not to remand but reasoned simply that the en banc opinion of this Court "amply demonstrates [that] no special circumstances here dictate the use of multi-member districts." It must be remembered that there the district court had ordered an at-large plan, so that defendants needed only to show special circumstances that would justify that decision; here the burden of those seeking an at-large district is to show that such a district was required. If no remand was ordered in the former case, where on this assumption opponents of the single-member plan had a lighter burden to carry, we should be hesitant to remand here. The Supreme Court is forthright with its words and had it wanted us to remand for a finding of fact it would have so ordered.
Second, a basic reason no remand was required in East Carroll and none should be required here is that the East Carroll Court was not articulating a new test but refining a test first announced in Connor v. Johnson, 1971, 402 U.S. 690, 692, 91 S.Ct. 1760, 1762, 29 L.Ed.2d 268 (per curiam). Were there "special circumstances," the district court could not only have found them but also could have denominated them as such. The term, "special circumstances," encompasses only the rare, the exceptional, not the usual and diurnal. Appellants raise no factual matters of which the district court was unaware. The parties have already waited six years since this litigation began. Elections must soon be held. A remand would serve no useful purpose.
Third, it must be recognized that the term "special circumstances" is possessed of no talismanic significance. It merely represents the Supreme Court's recognition that a "singular combination of unique factors" may sometimes permit a district court to conclude that the policies underlying the general preference for single-member districting are outweighed by grave defects of single-member districting as applied to the particular case. Mahan v. Howell, supra, 410 U.S. at 333, 93 S.Ct. at 989, 35 L.Ed.2d at 335. The general preference for single-member districting plans is founded on a judgment that the weaknesses of multi-member or at-large plans tend to impair fair representation and impede access to the political process. The practical weaknesses of at-large plans include "their tendency to submerge minorities" Whitcomb v. Chavis, 1971, 403 U.S. 124, 158-59, 91 S.Ct. 1858, 1877, 29 L.Ed.2d 363, 384-385, and the possible unresponsiveness of at-large members to residents of particular areas within the district. See generally Chapman v. Meier, 1975, 420 U.S. 1, 14-18, 95 S.Ct. 751, 760-62, 42 L.Ed.2d 766. Where application of single-member districting in a particular case reveals greater weaknesses in the single-member plan, however, a district court may decide that creation of at least one at-large district would better serve the values of fair representation and political access.
In the opinion of this court en banc in Zimmer, Judge Gewin summarized the kinds of circumstances that might justify a district court's choosing an at-large plan. Where the district court's approval of an at-large plan "is challenged merely as an abuse of discretion," Connor v. Johnson's preference for single member districts may be overridden when special circumstances obtain:
One example of a case in which the Supreme Court found special circumstances is Mahan v. Howell, 1973, 410 U.S. 315, 93 S.Ct. 979, 35 L.Ed.2d 320. In that case the Court approved the use of multi-member districts as an interim remedy to alleviate substantial underrepresentation of military personnel in an impending election.
Appellants do not allege that the single-member plan would threaten the constitutional rights of some voters, as in Mahan, nor do comparable circumstances in fact obtain in this case. In any event, we are not faced with a situation like that in Mahan or East Carroll where the district court ordered at least some multi-member districting; here the district court ordered single-member districting in the first instance. There is no need to remand to determine whether the single-member plan suffers from grave weaknesses. In endorsing the plan, the district court found that it suffered from no constitutional defects. 377 F.Supp. at 1200. It strains the imagination to suppose that reminding the district court of the appellation, "special circumstances," would inspire it to a vision of the plan's grave weaknesses where before it saw none.
Fourth, we need not remand to decide whether special circumstances dictate approval of the mixed plan because the district court has already implicitly found that the mixed plan affords the black voting minority not greater but diminished opportunity for access to the political process. To be sure, the district court found that the mixed plan would unconstitutionally dilute the black vote and eventuate in a racially discriminatory result. We did not agree with that constitutional finding in our earlier opinion and need not do so now. The district court's criticism of the mixed plan need not be of constitutional dimension to be decisive under East Carroll. The argument is a fortiori: because the district court found that the mixed plan unconstitutionally dilutes black voting strength and ordered the single-member plan, it is implicit that the district court decided that the mixed plan dilutes black voting strength to some extent and does not serve the values of fair representation and political access better than the single-member plan.
In sum, the present record is sufficient to enable us to determine without remanding whether the district court abused its discretion in ordering the single-member plan. In East Carroll itself, the Supreme Court saw no need to remand. That single-member districting is to be preferred "absent special circumstances" by a district court shaping remedial relief is not a new test announced in East Carroll but an existing rule reaffirmed in that case. The district court has already decided that the single-member plan jeopardized no constitutional requirements. Finally, the district
Having determined that we need not remand, we must now decide whether the district court abused its discretion. Although East Carroll, Mahan, and other cases considered were instances of the first paradigm, where the district court orders multi-member or at-large districting, these cases lead us to conclude that when the district court orders remedial relief in the form of single-member districting in the first instance, an appellate court may overturn that presumptively proper choice only if (1) the findings of fact from which the district court failed to discern special circumstances are clearly erroneous, or (2) the failure to discern special circumstances from the facts found is an abuse of discretion as a matter of law. Since the facts are not contested, here appellants must show that special circumstances did exist on the facts found and that such special circumstances are sufficiently compelling to dictate the choice of the mixed plan.
For purposes of this case, we need not delimit precisely how compelling such a showing of special circumstances must be in order to preclude the district court from exercising its discretion to choose an all-single-member plan. We decide only that no sufficient showing of special circumstances has been made to justify such a holding here. Appellants argue only that the mixed plan will provide substantial political participation to both blacks and whites and that since voting strength is almost equally divided between the black and white population this balance constitutes a "special circumstance." The first consideration hardly suffices to dislodge the preference accorded single-member districting. That an at-large plan affords minorities greater political access is a necessary though perhaps not sufficient condition for holding that a district court cannot choose single-member districting. The second argument is equally meritless. Blacks constituted a majority of the population of East Carroll Parish,
There is no reason to think the district court should have found "special circumstance" that would override the general preference for single-member districting. There is no indication that the at-large provision would better serve the values of equal representation and access to the political process — indeed, the findings of the district court suggest precisely the contrary. Because any showing of "special circumstance" would gain persuasive force only by appeal to such values, we cannot say that the district court abused its discretion in choosing the single-member plan.
II. Attorneys' Fees
The district court awarded attorneys' fees to plaintiffs on the basis of the "common benefit" and "private attorney general" rationales. We found the common benefit rationale inapposite
This issue is squarely controlled by our decision in Ferguson v. Winn Parish Police Jury, 5 Cir. 1976, 528 F.2d 592, 599 n. 13.
The appropriate test for the retroactive application of amendments permitting awards of attorneys' fees in cases pending on appeal was articulated by the Supreme Court in Bradley v. School Board of City of Richmond, 1974, 416 U.S. 696, 94 S.Ct. 2006, 40 L.Ed.2d 476.
Neither the statute nor its legislative history need give us pause in retroactively applying § 1973l(e).
"One man, one vote" postulates an equivalence not easily achieved. Without the awarding of attorneys' fees, the concept could neither have emerged nor matured. The statute was passed to remove the infirmities of Alyeska. If retroactivity is a therapy, it should be applied.
The judgment of the district court is
This provision was passed in reaction to Alyeska. See S.Rep. 94-295, 94th Cong., 1st Sess. 39-43, 1975 U.S.Code Cong. & Admin.News 806-810.