Bolden v. City of Mobile

On July 9, 1975, fourteen black Mobilians filed suit against the City of Mobile and its three commissioners, claiming that the at-large system of electing city officials denied African Americans equal political access.

Wiley L. Bolden was the lead plaintiff in the case. The plaintiffs argued that the system violated the First, Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution, and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. One year later, the District Court judge ruled that Mobile's at-large elections did violate the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, and they ordered the city to replace that system with single member district voting.

The city appealed the decision, claiming that since African Americans had been disfranchised by the Alabama Constitution of 1901 the city's system of elections had not been racially motivated. When the Fifth Circuit upheld the District Court ruling, the city took their appeal to the Supreme Court. Arguments took place in March and October 1979. Six months later, the Supreme Court ordered further consideration of the case by the Fifth Circuit. Justice Stewart's majority opinion claimed that the Bolden plaintiffs must prove that city elections were designed to intentionally discriminate against blacks. In December the Fifth Circuit remanded the case back to the District Court.

After plaintiffs were able to prove that motivation for the adoption of at-large voting in Mobile was to disfranchise the black population, the District Court, in April 1982, ruled against the city. The court abolished the commission form of government and ordered the Alabama legislature to enact a redistricting plan.

In 1985, the city of Mobile elected Arthur Outlaw as its first mayor under the new mayor/council form of government. It also seated three African-American council members.

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