Those backing the redistricting of Baton Rouge City Court’s election boundaries through a civil right lawsuit want a federal judge to halt the September qualifying period for an October special election to fill a vacancy on the court.
A trial of the suit concluded in November, and attorneys for the plaintiffs, and the state and city-parish defendants filed post-trial arguments in December.
Since then, both sides have been waiting on a final ruling by Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson, who previously warned the Legislature he may act if state lawmakers fail to devise a redistricting plan that accounts for a shift in the city’s population from predominantly white to majority black.
“If the special election is held under the City’s current system, then in the likely event that the Court goes on to find a violation after the special election, equity would require the results of that special election to be set aside and a new election held under a lawful election system.
That outcome would be disruptive and could inhibit the Court’s ability to fashion effective relief,” attorneys for plaintiffs Kenneth Hall and Byron Sharper claim in a motion filed Friday.
The attorneys acknowledge that Jackson could simply invalidate the results of the special election and order a new special election under a revised election system that complies with federal law.
“That would not necessarily represent a full and effective remedy, however, because if the winning candidate in the special election is not the African-American-preferred candidate, that candidate would be in the position to benefit as a de facto incumbent, if not an actual incumbent, in future elections, a result which cannot be undone by court order,” they argue.
Currently, three of the five City Court judges are elected from majority-white districts and the other two are elected from predominantly-black districts.
The Legislature is considering two competing plans for the election of Baton Rouge City Court judges.
One proposal calls for three of the five judges to be elected from majority-black districts. The other plan pitches an at-large election plan where candidates would run citywide.
The legislative session ends June 11.
“This is completely independent of what the Legislature is doing,” Stephen Irving, one of the attorneys for Hall and Sharper in the civil rights suit, said Tuesday of the motion filed last week.
The Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office had no comment on the motion.
Candidate qualifying for the Oct. 24 special election is set for Sept. 8-10. If needed, a runoff election would be Nov. 21.
If the election boundaries remain in place by then, Hall and Sharper also are asking Jackson to block the Oct. 24 election.
Longtime City Court Judge Alex “Brick” Wall retired in February but was appointed by the Louisiana Supreme Court to serve on a temporary basis until a special election is held to fill the Division C seat.
City Court’s boundaries were drawn in 1993 when the population of Baton Rouge was majority white.
But the 2010 census indicated the city had both a predominantly-black population and voting-age population, attorneys for Hall and Sharper contend.
Lawyers for the state, governor and attorney general counter there is no law in Louisiana that mandates redistricting of the judiciary after every census.
Attorneys for the mayor and city-parish maintain that black residents have had an opportunity and continue to have a chance to elect their candidates of choice in Baton Rouge.