Ideally, no man or woman should be elected to a position based upon skin color. To do so is to promote ignorance, spur divisiveness and marginalize individualism. Public office of any kind, including a judgeship, carries too much power to disregard a candidate’s merits. But in this country, election slogans formally and informally sometimes devolve to the contemptible “Vote Your Color.”
But the existence of electoral diversity is imperative, lest some remain voiceless.
The New York-based NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund filed suit against the state of Louisiana in federal court, alleging Terrebonne’s at-large system of electing judges is skewed against black voters and candidates and insisting the parish carve out an “opportunity district,” popularly called a minority-majority district.
Such a district is not foreign. Most governing bodies in the Tri-parish area have carved at least one geographical area that encompasses more black voters than white voters. Section 2 of Voting Rights Act of 1965 bans voting practices that discriminate on the basis of race, color or other factors, and it’s through that section the suit wants to compel the creation of the so-called opportunity district.
There are valid reasons for and against a special district, and it’s difficult for us to levy an opinion one way or the other.
Juan Pickett, a black man and longtime prosecutor in the 32nd Judicial District, has announced his campaign for a Terrebonne judgeship. Opponents to the special district say that if Pickett would win, it would offer proof that a special district is unnecessary.
It’s hard not to see a bit of irony to the fact Pickett is campaigning for the Division C seat, currently occupied by Dist. Judge Timothy Ellender, who was suspended in 2004 after attending a Halloween party wearing blackface, an afro wig and an inmate’s jumpsuit. Ellender won re-election four years later, though is now retiring because he’s reached the maximum bench age of 70.
The anecdote was included in the suit as evidence black residents should question his right to be fair and impartial toward them and that the voice of black voters is too distilled to make a difference.
Proponents of the special district contend that Pickett is one candidate, who if elected, will inevitably leave the bench, so his foray into the race does not remotely solve the underlying issue. There’s also the matter that he is coming from the established hierarchy from which black residents seek a reprieve.
We agree that Pickett’s campaign is no testament as to the necessity of a minority-majority district.
We need to hear what federal court has to say about the 32nd Judicial District’s compliance with the Voting Rights Act.