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Case Name Collins v. Norfolk VR-VA-0010
Docket / Court 2:1983cv00526 ( E.D. Va. )
State/Territory Virginia
Case Type(s) Election/Voting Rights
Case Summary
On, August 12, 1983, black residents of the City of Norfolk, Virginia and the Norfolk branch of the NAACP filed a lawsuit under section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 1973, as well as under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against the City of Norfolk, as well as its City Council and Electoral Board in the ... read more >
On, August 12, 1983, black residents of the City of Norfolk, Virginia and the Norfolk branch of the NAACP filed a lawsuit under section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 1973, as well as under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against the City of Norfolk, as well as its City Council and Electoral Board in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, at Richmond. The plaintiffs, represented by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, asked the court for declaratory and injunctive relief to replace the at-large system of electing City Council members with a single-member districting plan, alleging that the at-large system unlawfully diluted black voting strength in violation of section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, as well as the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

The at-large method of electing City Council members in the City of Norfolk has been in place since established by the town's charter in 1918. In 1968 an advisory committee, one of whose members was black, was commissioned by the City Council to study and evaluate the 1918 charter. It unanimously recommended the retention of the at-large election system. From 1968 until the date of the ruling, one member of the City Council had been black.

On July 17, 1984, the District Court (Judge J. Clavitt Clarke, Jr.) held that, based on the totality of circumstances, that the political processes leading to the election of the members of the Norfolk City Council were equally open to participation by the black citizens of Norfolk, and that the at-large system was not adopted or maintained for a discriminatory purpose. Collins v. Norfolk, 605 F.Supp. 377 (E.D. VA 1984).

Plaintiffs appealed, and on July 22, 1985, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit (Judge Francis Dominic Murnaghan, Jr.) affirmed the decision of the district court. Collins v. Norfolk, 768 F.2d 572 (4th Cir. 1985).

Plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States, and on July 7, 1986 were granted a writ of certiorari. Collins v. Norfolk, 478 U.S. 1016 (1986). The Court vacated the ruling and remanded the case to the Fourth Circuit for reconsideration in light of Thornburg v. Gingles, 478 U.S. 30 (1986), which established two cardinal factors for determining a violation of section 2 of the Voting Rights Act--the presence of racially polarized voting and the actual results of minority-preferred candidates in winning elections. Additionally, the Gingles case established that the minority must prove three things as a threshold matter to establish that a violation of section 2 had occurred:

1. That it is sufficiently large and geographically compact enough to make a majority, if it were voting in a single-member district;

2. that it is politically cohesive; and

3. that the majority votes sufficiently as a bloc to enable it--in the absence of special circumstances, such as an unopposed minority candidate--usually to defeat the minority's preferred candidate.

Presence of the two cardinal factors is sufficient to meet these prerequisites.



On April 9, 1987, the Court of Appeals (Judge Samuel James Ervin III) reversed and remanded the decision of the District Court. Collins v. Norfolk, 816 F.2d 932 (4th Cir. 1987). The court found that in light of Gingles, the District Court was wrong to use Defendants' definition of racially polarized voting, as it considered causative factors in addition to majority and minority voting patterns, such as the presence of "white backlash" or attempts by whites to limit the field of candidates. Furthermore, the Court held that the District Court was wrong to reject plaintiffs' studies of voting patterns because they lacked causative factors to explain voting patterns. The Court also held that the District Court must more carefully assess the presence of minority electoral success to determine whether black electoral success in Norfolk was so consistent and nearly proportional as to overshadow any racially polarized voting and other factors tending to dilute minority political access.

Upon remand, on February 3, 1988, the District Court (Judge Clarke) ruled again in favor of the defendants, finding that Norfolk's black voters were usually successful in electing their preferred candidates; that there was no legally significant racial bloc voting in Norfolk, and that the success of black-preferred candidates in Norfolk was so nearly proportional to the black population as to preclude a section 2 violation. Collins v. Norfolk, 679 F.Supp 587 (E.D VA 1988).

Plaintiffs again appealed, and on August 18, 1989, the Court of Appeals (Judge John Decker Butzner, Jr.) reversed the decision of the District Court, finding that plaintiffs had met the three thresholds established in Gingles and that black representation on the City Council was not proportional to the population. Collins v. Norfolk, 883 F.2d 1232 (4th Cir. 1989). The Court ordered that upon remand the District Court should enjoin at-large elections for City Council and afford the city a reasonable specified time to prepare a plan that would remedy the vote dilution arising out of the city's at-large election plan.

Defendants appealed, and on October 29, 1990, the Supreme Court of the United States denied their petition for a writ of certiorari. Collins v. Norfolk, 498 U.S. 938 (1990).

Brandon Janes - 11/27/2006


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Race
Black
Voting
Challenges to at-large/multimember district/election
Vote dilution
Causes of Action Voting Rights Act, section 2, 42 U.S.C. § 1973
42 U.S.C. ยง 1983
Defendant(s) City of Norfolk
Class action status granted No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Filing Year 1990
Case Closing Year 1992
Case Ongoing No
Docket(s)
2:83-cv-00526-JCC (E.D. Va.)
VR-VA-0010-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 09/18/2006
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Opinion (605 F.Supp. 377) (E.D. Va.)
VR-VA-0010-0004.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 07/17/1984
Source: Google Scholar
Opinion (768 F.2d 572)
VR-VA-0010-0002.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 07/22/1985
Source: Google Scholar
Opinion (Table) (478 U.S. 1016)
VR-VA-0010-0007.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 07/07/1986
Opinion (816 F.2d 932)
VR-VA-0010-0005.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 04/09/1987
Source: Google Scholar
Opinion (679 F.Supp. 557) (E.D. Va.)
VR-VA-0010-0003.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 02/03/1988
Source: Google Scholar
Opinion (883 F.2d 1232)
VR-VA-0010-0001.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 08/18/1989
Source: Google Scholar
Opinion (498 U.S. 938)
VR-VA-0010-0006.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 10/29/1990
show all people docs
Judges Butzner, John Decker Jr. (E.D. Va., Fourth Circuit) show/hide docs
VR-VA-0010-0001 | VR-VA-0010-0002 | VR-VA-0010-0005
Chapman, Robert Foster (D.S.C., Fourth Circuit) show/hide docs
VR-VA-0010-0001 | VR-VA-0010-0002 | VR-VA-0010-0005
Clarke, Joseph Calvitt Jr. (E.D. Va.) show/hide docs
VR-VA-0010-0003 | VR-VA-0010-0004 | VR-VA-0010-9000
Ervin, Samuel James III (Fourth Circuit) show/hide docs
VR-VA-0010-0005
Murnaghan, Francis Dominic Jr. (Fourth Circuit) show/hide docs
VR-VA-0010-0001 | VR-VA-0010-0002
Plaintiff's Lawyers Issacharoff, Samuel (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
VR-VA-0010-0001
Parker, Frank R. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
VR-VA-0010-0001 | VR-VA-0010-0002 | VR-VA-0010-0003 | VR-VA-0010-0004 | VR-VA-0010-0005
Robinson, William L. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
VR-VA-0010-0001 | VR-VA-0010-0002 | VR-VA-0010-0003 | VR-VA-0010-0005
Defendant's Lawyers Chappell, Robert Harvey (Virginia) show/hide docs
VR-VA-0010-0001 | VR-VA-0010-0002 | VR-VA-0010-0003 | VR-VA-0010-0004 | VR-VA-0010-0005
Gay, James F. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
VR-VA-0010-0002 | VR-VA-0010-0003 | VR-VA-0010-0004 | VR-VA-0010-0005
Hanrahan, Patricia M. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
VR-VA-0010-0002 | VR-VA-0010-0003
Jacobs, Paul W. II (Virginia) show/hide docs
VR-VA-0010-0001 | VR-VA-0010-0002 | VR-VA-0010-0003 | VR-VA-0010-0004 | VR-VA-0010-0005
Juren, Harold Phillip (Virginia) show/hide docs
VR-VA-0010-0001 | VR-VA-0010-0002 | VR-VA-0010-0003 | VR-VA-0010-0004
Salsbury, Alan M. (Virginia) show/hide docs
VR-VA-0010-0003
Taylor, Lydia C. (Virginia) show/hide docs
VR-VA-0010-0002 | VR-VA-0010-0004
Trapani, Phillip R. (Virginia) show/hide docs
VR-VA-0010-0001 | VR-VA-0010-0002 | VR-VA-0010-0003 | VR-VA-0010-0004

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