After years of failed attempts, a Baton Rouge City Court redistricting plan won final legislative approval Thursday.
Democratic state Rep. Alfred Williams gave up on a push for a remap that would create a majority black court — three out of five judges.
He urged the Louisiana House to accept a Senate version pushed by Republican state Sen. Dan Claitor under which there would be two majority white and two majority black districts and a fifth at-large, citywide district.
The House agreed, voting 92-1 for the Senate plan and sent it to Gov. Bobby Jindal for signing into law.
Democratic and Republican members of the Baton Rouge delegation have been at odds on the issue, putting the Legislature in the middle of local disagreements for the last several years.
Williams and others in the black community argue that it is time to change the racial makeup of the court because the city of Baton Rouge is now majority black.
U.S. District Court Judge Brian Jackson earlier this week denied a lawsuit that sought to remake the racial balance of the court. Jackson, however, urged the Legislature to update its boundaries and election setup in a way he legally could not so they would conform with the changing racial demographics of the city of Baton Rouge.
The legislative logjam broke when Williams acknowledged that his majority black court redistricting plan was going nowhere.
“It’s not what I want but after discussions with a number of judges and others in the community that (the 2-2-1 Claitor plan) is what they recommended that we do,” Williams said in an interview.
“It’s worth giving it a try and see what happens in October,” he said.
Williams said the citywide district would kick in for the Oct. 24 special election to fill a court seat vacated by Judge Alex “Brick” Wall.
“If an African-American runs in October and loses, I will be back next year,” he said. “They were saying an African American could win and they did not.”
The Baton Rouge City Court was created in 1900. It handles civil claims up to $35,000 and small-claims cases of less than $5,000. Its criminal jurisdiction is over misdemeanors that are offenses generally punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000 and/or a jail term of not more than six months.