The case would create five districts, one with mostly minority voters. | Shutterstock
BATON ROUGE — The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana on March 13 will hear a Terrebonne Parish NAACP lawsuit seeking to create a majority-minority judicial district system to better represent the blacks and minorities in the parish.
Multiple attempts at creating legislation to break up the parish failed before the lawsuit was filed in 2014, according to a report by the Daily Comet.
The NAACP will be using the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibits racial discrimination in voting, as an argument, Victorien Wu, an attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund that is representing the local branch, the Louisiana Record. The parish is currently made up of about 20 percent blacks, 70 percent white and 10 percent other minorities, he said.
LDF hired an expert to analyze voting patterns in the parish. In the last seven elections in which there has been at least one black candidate, 85 percent of the black voters supported that candidate but in none of those elections did that candidate win.
“We are looking for a change in the system that will give them the opportunity to elect their preferred candidate election after election,” Wu said.
The parish is currently an at-large system. This case would split it into five voting districts, with one being made up of minorities, the Daily Comet reported.
The argument has been made against the case that an elected official elected from the minority district can’t accurately represent the whole parish, Wu said. Louisiana, however, has many majority-minority districts from cases that popped up in the late 1980s and early 1990s, including the state Supreme Court.
“There is no evidence that judges elected in majority-minority districts are less fair or less independent or less accountable,” Wu said. “The state judicial system continues to function well.”
Wu has seen the opposite effect from the other districts.
“They greatly expanded the diversity of the judiciary in Louisiana, and people have greater confidence in their judiciary,” he said.
The case has experienced another hurdle. After the case was filed, a black former assistant district attorney, Juan Pickett, ran unopposed for judge in the parish. Never in history has a black candidate ran unopposed in the parish, leading Wu to suspect a ploy from the defense to downplay the issue.
Wu also said that although the state is facing budget issues, it is spending a lot of money in defense of this case.
According to Wu, the defense has hired four expert witnesses who each charge about $250-400 an hour.
If the state loses, per the Voting Rights Act, it will have to pay the NAACP’s legal fees.
“The state is looking at spending a substantial amount that they could be using elsewhere,” Wu said.
Despite the amount of money the state is paying, Wu feels confident about the case, especially with other similar cases that have had success in the state.
“We believe we have a really strong case,” he said.