There is little agreement on anything, even when it all started, but sometime in the last decade the Beaumont Independent School District became a battle zone. Tempers have flared at school board meetings and lawsuits have been filed, as a mostly white group of critics have charged the black-majority school board with enabling corruption, wasteful spending and academic cheating. The school board’s majority denies the charges and says the whites simply cannot tolerate black control. Determined to change the board but aware that the incumbents could not be beaten in the current districts, the critics pursued alternatives. Last December, they pushed for a new election method that was approved, along narrow racial lines, in a citywide referendum. The Justice Department, citing Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, objected to the new method and it was dropped.
Then, in April, the critics took advantage of a little-noticed state statute that rendered three of the board’s black incumbents unexpectedly disqualified from the next election, a procedural maneuver affirmed by a Texas appeals court. This, too, was blocked by the Justice Department.
But throughout the spring, Michael D. Getz, a city councilman and a leader of the crusade to remake the board, kept a close eye on the United States Supreme Court. “I thought, ‘Well, this might not be the last word on this,’ ” he said.
The last word, for now, will come this week, when the Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of Section 5. Passed in 1965 at the height of the civil rights movement and renewed and amended several times since, the section requires states, counties, cities, school boards, water districts and other jurisdictions where there has been a history of racial discrimination to submit any proposed voting changes to the Justice Department for approval, or “preclearance.”