Attorneys for the State of Louisiana as well as those representing the Terrebonne Parish NAACP want a judge in Baton Rouge to make an immediate rulings arising from a lawsuit brought under the federal Voting Rights Act which challenges the method used to select judges.
Attorneys for Gov. Piyush “Bobby” Jindal and Attorney General James “Buddy” Caldwell, named defendants in the suit, have filed a brief arguing that they are immune from such an action, along with other reasons why they say it should be tossed.
Lawyers for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which filed the suit, are seeking a summary judgment from the court, arguing that the case has no need to go to trial and can be ruled upon immediately.
What they seek is a permanent injunction that would end parish-wide voting for its five district court benches in the 32nd Judicial District. The LDF has argued that the practice violates the Voting Rights Act by giving unfair weight to the votes of non-minority voters; The five divisions of court are lettered A,B,C,D and E and have no relation to any specific geographic area. The cure, the NAACP lawyers state, would be a sub-district made up of minority voters.
“Our case demonstrates that the at-large electoral method for the 32nd silences the voices of black voters. As recently as 2008, this structure resulted in a white judge’s reelection even after he was suspended for wearing blackface in an apparent parody of black criminal defendants,” said Leah Aden, a LDF attorney. “Louisiana adopted at-large voting for the 32nd after the enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, to prevent black voters from electing their candidates of choice. Despite decades of advocacy against at-large voting in the district, Louisiana has continued to use this voting method and rejected numerous legislative proposals to change to district-based voting.”
Neither the governor nor the attorney general, lawyers for the state argue, have control over how the elections are conducted.
“As admitted by the plaintiffs in the complaint, the Louisiana Legislature created the
current at-large method of electing judges for 32nd Judicial District,” papers filed on behalf of Louisiana’s government state. “And it is the proper authority to change or amend the geographic boundaries of the election districts.”
Former State Rep. Damon Baldone of Houma introduced a bill in 2011 that would have created the subdistrict, but it was voted down by the House.
The court has not yet set a date for decision on the basis of the briefs, which were filed Friday.
“This year, as we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, the crown jewel of the civil rights movement, Terrebonne voters are still fighting to ensure that their voices are represented in their judicial system,” said Jerome Boykin, President of the Terrebonne Parish Branch NAACP. “After a half century, we still are struggling for representation for all voters at the ballot box.”