ST. LOUIS — An appeals court ruled Tuesday that a Missouri school district that includes students from Ferguson violated the federal Voting Rights Act in its method of electing board members.
A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with a lower court judge who in 2016 ordered the Ferguson-Florissant School District to adopt cumulative voting, which allows people to cast as many votes as there are candidates and to use all of their votes on one candidate if they choose. The order was on hold pending appeals.
The case stems from a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the NAACP and black parents and residents who alleged racial bias in the district's current at-large election process, in which people vote only once for a candidate. The suit alleged that the at-large system made it more difficult for black candidates to win election.
"The courts have ruled yet again that the Ferguson-Florissant school district's election system illegally dilutes African-American voting power," Julie Ebenstein, an attorney with the ACLU's Voting Rights Project, said in a statement. "The decision takes another step toward dismantling systematic bias in local elections, and ensuring that all communities' interests are equally represented."
Cindy Ormsby, an attorney for the school district, said she was "extremely disappointed" by the ruling. She said the board will meet soon to consider whether to ask the full appeals court to consider the case.
Racial concerns in Ferguson were highlighted after 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was black and unarmed, was fatally shot by a white police officer in August 2014. The officer, Darren Wilson, was not charged and later resigned. The city of Ferguson reached a consent agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice aimed at addressing racial bias in its police and courts.
The lawsuit against the school district was filed in 2014, when six of the seven board members were white, even though about four-fifths of the district's 11,000 students were black.
The current racial makeup of the board is four white and three black members.