Judge Cancels Elections in Ferguson-Florissant School District

Recently a federal judge ruled that the way the Ferguson-Florissant School District elects board members was biased against black people, and he ordered a suspension of elections until the district satisfied his demands for reform.

Here is the entire 119-page opinion.

Judge Rodney Sippel (who, by the way, was an aid to Dick Gephardt and was appointed by Bill Clinton) wrote a rambling opinion in which he ultimately concludes that, well, blacks are underrepresented on the board because of institutional racism and are victims of such unfair practices as not allowing felons to vote or making people register at an address.

He states:

"The fact that the electoral process in FFSD Board elections is not equally open to African Americans is most apparent in the stark levels of racially polarized voting seen in Board elections and the failure of white voters to support candidates from the African American community, which has essentially blocked African American voters from exercising effective political power in the District. Against this backdrop of inequality, a number of other factors hinder African American electoral success, such as an absence of meaningful access to endorsements, and subtle racial campaign appeals. Importantly, each of these factors interact with the voting practices and procedures that are in place for school board elections in FFSD, including the at-large and off-cycle election features, as well as, to some extent, the staggered terms of Board members, to dilute the African American vote. Ultimately, the complex interaction between these processes and conditions has "cause[d] an inequality in the opportunities enjoyed by black and white voters to elect their preferred representatives."

"Failure of white voters to support African American candidates"?  "Lack of meaningful endorsements"? So now the outcome of elections must go in favor of minorities or it is biased.

Ferguson-Florissant holds elections every two years for board members to promote turnover on the board, and candidates are drawn district-wide rather than precinct by precinct. These very practices were put in place after a 1975 forced desegregation of the district (in which the all-black Kinloch district along with black sections of Berkeley were united with the Florissant and Ferguson districts into the FFSD) so as to empower the minorities who, at the time, were only a fraction of the population of the district. Clearly staggered elections work against incumbency, and drawing from the general district prevents a core from controlling certain seats.

Prior to the 1975 court decision that created this district, the districts of Ferguson and Florissant were overwhelmingly white. The desegregation order forced them to create a new district that included the historically black community of Kinloch. Nobody had a problem with the board election scheme then, and did not until over 40 years later.

As of this writing the board is comprised of four whites and three blacks. The community that pays for these schools is a plurality white, although most of the children (77.1%) who attend are black.

The general voting-age population tally is where this gets interesting. According to Sipppel, the black population of the district is 48.19% using Census data or 51.0% using a 2013 survey. But that statistic is itself misleading, as Sippel uses the standard of Any Part Black, the old eugenics category that says if you have any percentage of non-white blood you are essentially black. So the mixed-race people are categorized as black to swell the rolls. It doesn't swell them much but it does pad the total number. And the judge spends quite a bit of time discussing the demographics of the district, despite the fact that this district has changed drastically in recent years and looking at past numbers on the board is of no value, yet he does it anyway. Why?  It is rather reminiscent of the old student trick of writing everything down to wear out the teacher and thus get a better grade. It's a kind of filibuster to divert your attention from the main points.

What are the main points?

Sippel lists the impediments to voting among black residents of the community as felony voter disenfranchisement, lack of homeownership, and other socio-economic indicators that are barriers to registration.

Essentially, he does not want choices to matter. Each and every one of his complaints with the system stem from choices. If you commit crimes, you lose the right to vote. That is a choice. If you chose not to have a permanent address -- and that is often done to keep creditors at bay or to dodge those pesky landlords who want to be paid -- that is your choice. If you don't bother to register to vote in a timely manner that is your choice. (That is important; in Missouri you have to register 27 days before an election, and that is done to prevent voter fraud. Indeed, why should someone be able to move into a district and vote immediately when they have never had a vested interest in the district until now?)  Frankly, the judge admits there was no evidence presented that illustrated an undue burden on black voters, which in itself should have led him to rule for the District. He simply wished this away, claiming lower rates of registration even without evidence.

By the way, home ownership should give you a louder voice in this instance, as property taxes are the mechanism for funding school districts and the greater the value of your home the more you have to pay. Why should someone who "stays" rather than lives at an address have equal power over the wallets of their neighbors? Renters pay nothing for the services they are more likely to use. That is two wolves and a sheep deciding what's for dinner.

The judge complains that board members are drawn almost entirely from the municipalities of Florissant and Ferguson and none from Kinloch (population 299) or the section of Berkeley in the District. In short, he is only interested in more black board members, and the rest be damned!

He states:

“During the six contested elections from 2011 to 2016, fifteen African American candidates ran for Board seats,” Sippel wrote. “African American candidates were successful in obtaining three out of those fifteen seats (20% success). During the six contested elections from 2011 to 2016, eighteen white candidates ran for Board seats. White candidates were successful in obtaining eleven out of those sixteen seats (68.7% success).”

In other words, if the majority is more likely to vote in an election (and few people know who is running for the school board, or care) and if they are better at getting their people elected it automatically amounts to unfair voting. In short, the political process doesn't matter but rather the outcome.

This ruling is about power and not law. Judge Sippel simply ignores the political realities of the situation; African Americans are not prevented from running, nor are they gerrymandered in any fashion. They simply aren't doing what is needed in a democratic political system to attain power. They aren't getting out the vote. They aren't raising funds as well as their opponents. The ballots do not say *negro next to the names of black candidates, nor does it identify a precinct or have other markers. This ruling has one objective -- to give more political clout to the African-American community despite their political failures.

It is a monstrous attempt to overturn the normal political process.

The St. Louis American (a paper that is aimed at the black community) states:

"Cindy Ormsby, a lawyer for the school district, said in an email that the district cannot change the electoral system voluntarily because the elections are held “in a manner that is required by Missouri law.” The district is considering an appeal of the judge’s decision, she said."

State law doesn't seem to matter here; the judge ruled that the school district could not hold the next election until the district gave him a plan to grant special privilege, er, equalize the voting.

This brings up an interesting point; if a Federal Judge can suspend elections for a school board, can other elections be suspended by the Feds based on the Civil Rights Act?

The chaos in Ferguson started a conflagration that has raged in so many American cities, and has caused an earthquake on college campuses around the country. The impact of this small suburban community may not have run its course.

Recently a federal judge ruled that the way the Ferguson-Florissant School District elects board members was biased against black people, and he ordered a suspension of elections until the district satisfied his demands for reform.

Here is the entire 119-page opinion.

Judge Rodney Sippel (who, by the way, was an aid to Dick Gephardt and was appointed by Bill Clinton) wrote a rambling opinion in which he ultimately concludes that, well, blacks are underrepresented on the board because of institutional racism and are victims of such unfair practices as not allowing felons to vote or making people register at an address.

He states:

"The fact that the electoral process in FFSD Board elections is not equally open to African Americans is most apparent in the stark levels of racially polarized voting seen in Board elections and the failure of white voters to support candidates from the African American community, which has essentially blocked African American voters from exercising effective political power in the District. Against this backdrop of inequality, a number of other factors hinder African American electoral success, such as an absence of meaningful access to endorsements, and subtle racial campaign appeals. Importantly, each of these factors interact with the voting practices and procedures that are in place for school board elections in FFSD, including the at-large and off-cycle election features, as well as, to some extent, the staggered terms of Board members, to dilute the African American vote. Ultimately, the complex interaction between these processes and conditions has "cause[d] an inequality in the opportunities enjoyed by black and white voters to elect their preferred representatives."

"Failure of white voters to support African American candidates"?  "Lack of meaningful endorsements"? So now the outcome of elections must go in favor of minorities or it is biased.

Ferguson-Florissant holds elections every two years for board members to promote turnover on the board, and candidates are drawn district-wide rather than precinct by precinct. These very practices were put in place after a 1975 forced desegregation of the district (in which the all-black Kinloch district along with black sections of Berkeley were united with the Florissant and Ferguson districts into the FFSD) so as to empower the minorities who, at the time, were only a fraction of the population of the district. Clearly staggered elections work against incumbency, and drawing from the general district prevents a core from controlling certain seats.

Prior to the 1975 court decision that created this district, the districts of Ferguson and Florissant were overwhelmingly white. The desegregation order forced them to create a new district that included the historically black community of Kinloch. Nobody had a problem with the board election scheme then, and did not until over 40 years later.

As of this writing the board is comprised of four whites and three blacks. The community that pays for these schools is a plurality white, although most of the children (77.1%) who attend are black.

The general voting-age population tally is where this gets interesting. According to Sipppel, the black population of the district is 48.19% using Census data or 51.0% using a 2013 survey. But that statistic is itself misleading, as Sippel uses the standard of Any Part Black, the old eugenics category that says if you have any percentage of non-white blood you are essentially black. So the mixed-race people are categorized as black to swell the rolls. It doesn't swell them much but it does pad the total number. And the judge spends quite a bit of time discussing the demographics of the district, despite the fact that this district has changed drastically in recent years and looking at past numbers on the board is of no value, yet he does it anyway. Why?  It is rather reminiscent of the old student trick of writing everything down to wear out the teacher and thus get a better grade. It's a kind of filibuster to divert your attention from the main points.

What are the main points?

Sippel lists the impediments to voting among black residents of the community as felony voter disenfranchisement, lack of homeownership, and other socio-economic indicators that are barriers to registration.

Essentially, he does not want choices to matter. Each and every one of his complaints with the system stem from choices. If you commit crimes, you lose the right to vote. That is a choice. If you chose not to have a permanent address -- and that is often done to keep creditors at bay or to dodge those pesky landlords who want to be paid -- that is your choice. If you don't bother to register to vote in a timely manner that is your choice. (That is important; in Missouri you have to register 27 days before an election, and that is done to prevent voter fraud. Indeed, why should someone be able to move into a district and vote immediately when they have never had a vested interest in the district until now?)  Frankly, the judge admits there was no evidence presented that illustrated an undue burden on black voters, which in itself should have led him to rule for the District. He simply wished this away, claiming lower rates of registration even without evidence.

By the way, home ownership should give you a louder voice in this instance, as property taxes are the mechanism for funding school districts and the greater the value of your home the more you have to pay. Why should someone who "stays" rather than lives at an address have equal power over the wallets of their neighbors? Renters pay nothing for the services they are more likely to use. That is two wolves and a sheep deciding what's for dinner.

The judge complains that board members are drawn almost entirely from the municipalities of Florissant and Ferguson and none from Kinloch (population 299) or the section of Berkeley in the District. In short, he is only interested in more black board members, and the rest be damned!

He states:

“During the six contested elections from 2011 to 2016, fifteen African American candidates ran for Board seats,” Sippel wrote. “African American candidates were successful in obtaining three out of those fifteen seats (20% success). During the six contested elections from 2011 to 2016, eighteen white candidates ran for Board seats. White candidates were successful in obtaining eleven out of those sixteen seats (68.7% success).”

In other words, if the majority is more likely to vote in an election (and few people know who is running for the school board, or care) and if they are better at getting their people elected it automatically amounts to unfair voting. In short, the political process doesn't matter but rather the outcome.

This ruling is about power and not law. Judge Sippel simply ignores the political realities of the situation; African Americans are not prevented from running, nor are they gerrymandered in any fashion. They simply aren't doing what is needed in a democratic political system to attain power. They aren't getting out the vote. They aren't raising funds as well as their opponents. The ballots do not say *negro next to the names of black candidates, nor does it identify a precinct or have other markers. This ruling has one objective -- to give more political clout to the African-American community despite their political failures.

It is a monstrous attempt to overturn the normal political process.

The St. Louis American (a paper that is aimed at the black community) states:

"Cindy Ormsby, a lawyer for the school district, said in an email that the district cannot change the electoral system voluntarily because the elections are held “in a manner that is required by Missouri law.” The district is considering an appeal of the judge’s decision, she said."

State law doesn't seem to matter here; the judge ruled that the school district could not hold the next election until the district gave him a plan to grant special privilege, er, equalize the voting.

This brings up an interesting point; if a Federal Judge can suspend elections for a school board, can other elections be suspended by the Feds based on the Civil Rights Act?

The chaos in Ferguson started a conflagration that has raged in so many American cities, and has caused an earthquake on college campuses around the country. The impact of this small suburban community may not have run its course.