NEW ORLEANS — An NAACP lawsuit alleges that Terrebonne Parish's system of selecting judges violates the U.S. Voting Rights Act, and its aim of creating a minority-based judicial district is to be heard at Louisiana’s federal district court on March 13.
U.S. District Judge James Brady is expected to preside over the case.
In 2014, a lawsuit was brought by the Terrebonne Parish Branch of the NAACP, the Rev. Vincent Fuselier of St. Mathew Baptist Church in Houma and three other residents against former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Attorney General James D. “Buddy” Caldwell and Secretary of State Tom Schedler, the Houma Times reported.
The suit, which aims to change the current voting system, seeks to create a district-based voting method that is used for parish-council and school-board elections to create a minority district.
As Houma Today reported, the proposed system would include five single-member districts for judges, including one with a voter majority made up of blacks and other minorities.
Terrebonne Parish NAACP President Jerome Boykin said that “African-Americans deserve the right to elect the candidate of their choice” and that “[w]e have not been able to elect the candidate of our choice in an at-large system.”
Terrebonne Parish uses the current at-large system of electing its five state district-court judges. This means that each judge, who presides over a specific division of court, is elected by all voters within the parish, according to a 2016 report from the Houma Times. The suit alleges that this practice violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, while the at-large system prevents minority voters from being heard in judicial elections.
While six legislative proposals to create a majority-black district in Terrebonne have failed in the past, Houma Today reported, the 2014 lawsuit is proposing a district that includes parts of east and west Houma, Schriever and Gray.
Houma Today added that while the local NAACP president has received support from the community, Boykin is reported as saying that “not one white elected official has come on board to support what we are doing.”
Parish President Gordon Dove, a longtime opponent of the minority judgeship, filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit in Feb. 2016; however, he was blocked by federal court. He was attempting to get “a seat at the table” on behalf of the parish, he said, but by the time he took office and intervened it was too late to join.
According to Dove, the proposed new system is “bad” because it has the potential to “devastate the judicial system as we know it.”
The next step for the parish, Dove told the Houma Times, is to file an amicus curiae brief, which is a filing expressing an opinion by a being that is neither plaintiff nor defendant but one who has knowledge or an interest in the outcome. Judges may consider these opinions, but they are not obligated to consider them in their decisions.
In an article from The Courier and Daily Comet, Dove said that a second minority judge in addition to Judge Juan Pickett would require extra money and work for the parish, Houma Today stated.