Saying nothing in federal law entitles Chicago residents to
a right to an elected school board, a federal judge has tossed a lawsuit from a
group of plaintiffs, including parents of Chicago Public Schools students and
former Ill. Gov. Pat Quinn, who had asked the court to side with their
contentions that a state law granting the mayor of Chicago the power to appoint
members of the Chicago Board of Education was discriminatory and violated their
On Monday, Feb. 13, U.S. District Judge Elaine E. Bucklo granted
the request of the Chicago Board of Education and others named as a defendants
to dismiss the federal court action, and, in the process, to deny as moot the
plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction against the Chicago schools
The federal court action had been filed Oct. 5, 2016, by a
group of six named plaintiffs, identified as Irene Robinson, Antwain Miller,
Marc Kaplan, Christopher Ball, Daniel Morales-Doyle and Jitu Brown, who said
they were parents and grandparents of CPS students. Some of these plaintiffs
were affiliated with CPS’ Local School Councils.
Specifically, the federal complaint asserted the mayor’s
appointment powers violate the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause, as
CPS stands as the only school district in Illinois in which voters lack the
power to elect their own district board. And they further claimed the direct
appointment provisions violate the federal Voting Rights Act by illegally suppressing
the rights of African Americans and Hispanics to elect representatives to the
school board, limiting “the ability of minority race voters to determine how
much of (the city’s) property wealth can be taxed and used almost entirely for
the education of minority race children and only a small fraction of white
They asserted the mayoral appointment powers were enacted in
1995 as a response by white property owners in the city to a new political
reality in the wake of the election of former Mayor Harold Washington, the city’s
first and only elected black mayor.
The plaintiffs further claimed the mayoral appointment
powers have not only not produced a schools board that has made public education
in Chicago any better, or improved the district’s finances, but actually made
the situation worse.
The federal action had also been accompanied by a similar
lawsuit filed by the same plaintiffs in Cook County Circuit Court, alleging the
state law also violates provisions of the Illinois state constitution.
Quinn also joined his name to the lawsuits.
In response to the lawsuit, the Chicago Board asked the
judge to dismiss the federal lawsuit, claiming the plaintiffs’ challenge to the
law was invalid.
In her opinion and order, Bucklo sided with the CPS board.
Noting the plaintiffs’ claims are “not novel” and “cover
well-trodden ground” in many other previous cases, Bucklo said in all cases
courts have upheld the power of the state, under the U.S. Constitution and
federal law, to grant special powers to the mayors of cities with large urban
school districts to appoint school board members.
Legal precedent, the judge said, “affirmatively establishes
the rule … that the one-person, one-vote principle applies to local elections.
But it decidedly does not stand for the proposition that all local government
officers must be elected, nor does it suggest that if a state authorizes
elections for a particular office in some jurisdictions, it must do so in all
“Plaintiffs have no fundamental right to vote in school
board elections as a matter of law, and the fact that residents of other
Illinois jurisdictions have the privilege of voting in such elections in their
districts does not confer such a right upon residents of Chicago,” Bucklo added.
The judge further brushed aside arguments the 1995 state law
was a racially motivated, discriminatory response from a “hostile General
Assembly” to African American Chicago residents becoming “independent of white
political control while Harold Washington was mayor, and just after a
Democratic-controlled General Assembly in 1988 had given more control to
African American voters through LSCs.”
“It bears emphasizing that, as plaintiffs concede, Chicago’s
school board has never been elected,” the judge wrote. “Their argument that the
legislature enacted a ‘switch to an even less democratic’ process with the purpose
of discriminating against African Americans is simply too speculative to
support their claims.”
And the judge said she did not believe the plaintiffs had
made their case that the mayor had used the state law to appoint a school board
to protect property in the city from taxation for public schools, which serve
large numbers of racial minority students.
“… Plaintiffs do not allege that the Board has declined to
use its taxing authority to the fullest, and they offer no factual basis from
which to infer that the appointive process … was designed to minimize the
property tax exposure of Chicago’s white residents or to deprive minority
children of adequately funded schools,” Bucklo wrote. “Indeed … the Board’s
taxing authority in this respect is subject to a statutory cap, which applies
regardless of whether the Board is elected or appointed.”
According to Cook County court records, the plaintiffs’ state
court action against the Chicago Board of Education remains pending. The
Chicago Board has similarly asked the court to dismiss that action, as well.
Plaintiffs are represented in the action by the firm of
Despres Schwartz & Geoghegan, of Chicago.
The Chicago Board of Education was defended by the firm of
Pugh, Jones & Johnson, of Chicago.