Court ruling forces new plans to increase black officeholders

Shaken by a recent US Supreme Court decision, some civil rights attorneys and leaders are mapping new strategies to help blacks win elected office. The April 22 decision, affecting Mobile, Ala., rejected arguments that at-large city- or county-wide elections discriminate against minorities.

Civil rights advocates are considering the following action:

* Mobilize support among civil rights groups to amend the Voting Rights Act to ban existing at-large electoral systems. That ban now applies only to jurisdictions wishing to change existing electoral systems.

* Make extra efforts to get black voters to the polls. This would give black leaders more clout advancing the case for district elections.

Nationally, less than 1 percent of elected officials are black.But about 11 percent of the US population is black, according to the Joint Center for Political Studies.

One of the main reasons for this is the widespread use state and local at-large voting, civil rights specialists say.

The high court wants proof that the at-large system has been maintained with the "intent" of discriminating.

Mobile city attorney Fred Collins says, "There is nothing in the US Constitution or the 1965 Voting Rights Act that requires proportional representation by any identifiable political group."

Attorneys for the plaintiff feel they can prove this in the Mobile case. But legal specialists say intent will be impossible to prove in many other cases, despite discriminatory effects.

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