A federal trial is about to get underway in Louisiana that promises to be a case study into what happens in jurisdictions previously covered by the Voting Rights Act’s Section Five now that those protections have been vanquished by a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Section Five required federal preclearance of election changes in places with a history of racial discrimination, most of them in the South. The case, which involves questions about fair racial representation among city court judges, has been allowed to go forth after U.S. District Judge Brian A. Jackson found that state lawmakers have been negligent in their obligations to black voters.
Last October, Baton Rouge residents Kenneth Hall and Byron Sharper sued the state for failing to produce new district lines for Baton Rouge city court judge elections after the 2000 Census showed the city had become predominantly African-American. Three of the current judges are white and two are black, but that court composition is a reflection of a time when the city had a white majority. Blacks now make up 55 percent of the city’s population.
State lawmakers had numerous chances to redraw the city court district lines but didn’t — and in many cases, flat-out refused to, said the plaintiffs. Judge Jackson agreed, saying in the hearing, “The court has given … the Legislature every opportunity to correct this situation, and it has failed to do so,” as reported by The Advocate newspaper.
This year, Democratic state Rep. Alfred C. Williams, an African-American legislator for East Baton Rouge, introduced legislation to fix the district lines, but it was defeated, with white Republican legislators actively lobbying against it. Similar bills failed in 2004 and 2006 as well.