• Last updated on November 11, 2022

Reaffirming that the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments prohibit only “purposeful discrimination,” the Supreme Court upheld an at-large system of voting in which no African American had ever been elected.

The three-member city commission of Mobile, Alabama, had been elected on a citywide basis since 1911. Although African Americans made up almost 40 percent of the population, none had ever been elected to the commission. A district court found that the at-large system was unconstitutional, but the Supreme Court, by a 6-3 margin, reversed the judgment. In evaluating Mobile’s electoral system according to the demands of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, Justice Potter Stewart’sStewart, Potter;Mobile v. Bolden[Mobile v. Bolden] plurality opinion simply followed the Court’s many precedents indicating that a state policy that is neutral on its face does not violate the Constitution unless it is “motivated by a racially discriminatory purpose.” In an angry dissent, Justice Thurgood Marshall accused the Court of being “an accessory to the perpetuation of racial discrimination” and argued that voting rights should be judged according to a discriminatory effects test rather than a discriminatory intent standard.At-large elections[At large elections]African Americans;at-large elections[at-large elections]One person, one vote concept;Mobile v. Bolden[Mobile v. Bolden]At-large elections[At large elections]African Americans;at-large elections[at-large elections]

In Rogers v. Lodge[case]Rogers v. Lodge[Rogers v. Lodge] (1982), the Court used the Bolden standard to strike down an at-large electoral scheme in Georgia. The Court’s ruling in Bolden, however, became almost irrelevant after Congress passed the 1982 extension of the Voting Rights Act, which allows plaintiffs to prevail in voting dilution cases on the basis of a modified discriminatory effects test.

Race and discrimination

Representation, fairness of

Reversals of Court decisions by Congress

State action

Vote, right to

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