Sunday, July 21, 2024

Louisiana Senate adds second majority-Black seat to state Supreme Court

by BIZ Magazine

BY: GREG LAROSE – Louisiana Illuminator

Black judges would be favored to win two seats on the Louisiana Supreme Court under new district boundaries the state Senate approved Tuesday. The vote could signal a political win for Gov. Jeff Landry, whose Acadiana homebase would be at the heart of one of the other seven districts.

The proposed map from Sen. Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge, is nearly identical to a version a Senate committee rejected in last month’s special session on crime. Attorney General Liz Murrill pitched that bill to senators as the product of a settlement with the NAACP in a lawsuit the organization brought against the state in 2019 to force an update of Louisiana Supreme Court districts.

Murrill told the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee last month any adjustments they wanted to make to the map would put the settlement, which she had already signed, at risk. Not liking the fact they had no input on the map, the majority of the committee voted to defer the proposal.

Fields also brought up a version of his bill in January’s redistricting session that advanced from the same committee but never received a floor vote.

The map the Senate approved Tuesday creates a second majority-minority district largely at the expense of existing majority-white districts in North Louisiana. Sen. Thomas Pressly, R-Shreveport, supported adding a Black justice to the state’s highest court but opposed how Fields’ bill split his home Caddo Parish between two districts. He twice tried unsuccessfully to amend the legislation to mend splits in Caddo.

Pressley had also submitted his own map that would have created a Northwest Louisiana district, but he declined to bring it up for a vote after Fields’ bill was approved.

Sen. Greg Miller, R-Norco, also pulled his proposed map from the Senate schedule.

Tuesday’s debate was a notable battle in a behind-the-scenes war among the state’s three branches of government.

Fields’ new boundaries obliterate the current district of Chief Justice John Weimer, who Landry tried to prevent from running for re-election in 2022. As attorney general, Landry defended the state against the NAACP’s lawsuit, but he joined the group in its request to get a court to delay Weimer’s election.

A federal judge ruled against Landry, and Weimer won his re-election. He cannot run again because he turns 70 years old during his current term.

Weimer was one of two Louisiana Supreme Court justices who opposed a map the other five associate justices advanced ahead of the January special redistricting session. Like the approved Fields map, it also drew an Acadiana stronghold district at the expense of the chief justice’s bayou region base.

Fields told senators Tuesday population losses in North Louisiana justify the lines on his map. The new majority-Black seat stretches from the Monroe area down to Baton Rouge, reaching into Central Louisiana and the northwest portion of the Florida Parishes. The existing majority-Black seat, which Justice Piper Griffin holds, maintains its base in New Orleans.

Fields said population counts in the seven districts in his bill vary by less than 5%. The Louisiana Supreme Court’s boundaries don’t have to follow the one-person, one-vote rule of thumb that other election districts do, which requires the districts to be nearly identical in population.

Unlike congressional and legislative districts, state lawmakers do not have to reapportion state Supreme Court seats every 10 years. New districts for the Louisiana Supreme Court have been drawn only once in the past 100 years, and then only in response to a court ruling in 1997.

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