BATON ROUGE — At a Terrebonne Parish Council meeting last week, members of the NAACP spoke out against President Gordy Dove’s motion to include the parish as an intervener in a lawsuit against the state, and they did not hold back.
Terrebonne NAACP President Jerome Boykin and the Rev. Raymond Brown, a prominent civil rights activist in New Orleans, led the opposition. They accused Dove of wasting the parish’s money by prolonging the case and assured him they would take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.
“The parish government can only act to delay and perhaps obstruct resolution of this case, which has been ongoing for two years and at great cost (hundreds of thousands of dollars before trial), in a state impacted by a gut-wrenching billion dollar deficit,” Leah Alden, attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF), recently told the Louisiana Record.
The local NAACP branch originally filed the lawsuit in February 2014 against Gov. Bobby Jindal, Attorney General James Caldwell and Secretary of State Tom Schedler. The plaintiffs argue that the current at-large voting system in the parish discriminates against black voters.
Their solution to the problem is simple – create one district in which black voters compromise the majority of the voting-age population to give them the same opportunity as white voters to elect their preferred candidates in the district.
“Majority-black opportunity districts are common throughout Louisiana," Alden said. "There are majority black districts for electing members of the Louisiana Supreme Court, and various district and circuit appellate state courts throughout Louisiana, including in parishes neighboring Terrebonne like Assumption (23rd JDC) and St. Mary (16th JDC)."
The plaintiffs and their attorneys argue that the 32nd Judicial District Court’s voting system violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, representing an antiquated process that is in need of a change.
Dove filed his motion to intervene on Feb. 29, just six months after the LDF filed a motion for summary judgment in an attempt to expedite the lawsuit. While he claims the government just wants a voice in the issue, proponents of the lawsuit see Dove’s motion as unnecessary and potentially costly for the state.
“Unlike the existing defendants, the parish government has no role to play in state district court redistricting, which is the central issue in this litigation, and, therefore, cannot provide plaintiffs with the remedy that they seek through this case,” Alden said.
The underlying fear is that litigation will prolong a conclusion to what the plaintiffs believe to be an obvious solution.
“Members of the parish council have not voted to intervene in this action," Alden said. "Given the strength of plaintiffs' claims and that the remedy that we seek (a judicial subdistrict) is commonplace throughout Louisiana, Dove apparently is concerned that Gov. (John Bel) Edwards and/or Attorney General (Jeff) Landry will see the writing on the wall and act to resolve this lawsuit."
At the meeting, Dove insisted that he was merely fulfilling his duty as parish president to oversee the judicial system.
Regardless of the outcome, NAACP members made it clear that they would fight for a solution, even if that means going to the Supreme Court.