Baton Rouge City Court remake bill stalls in Louisiana Senate _lowres

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD -- State Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, asks Sen. Sherri Buffington, R-Shreveport, a question during the Louisiana Senate's meeting on Wednesday.

A long-running dispute over the racial makeup of the Baton Rouge City Court showed no sign of ending Wednesday.

The city of Baton Rouge is now majority black, and some lawmakers as well as a 2012 federal civil rights lawsuit, argues that the now-majority white court needs changing. But the Baton Rouge legislative delegation cannot come to an agreement on just what changes need to be made.

The Louisiana Senate ended up in the middle of the fight Wednesday.

Senate President Pro Tem Sharon Broome, a Democrat whose district covers largely African-American neighborhoods in north Baton Rouge, pushed a House-passed bill that would realign election districts that would presumably result in a majority black City Court — three out of five judges.

But Sen. Dan Claitor, a Republican whose predominantly white district is in south Baton Rouge, convinced the Senate to rewrite the measure to provide for two majority-white districts, two majority-black districts and a fifth at-large, citywide district.

The Senate voted 20-19 for the Claitor-pushed change.

Broome returned the bill to the calendar, choosing not to seek a final Senate vote on House Bill 76.

Legislative inaction has surrounded the subject for the last three legislative sessions. The judge in the federal lawsuit has chastised legislators for failure to adopt a redistricting plan, noting the census numbers that indicate the city is majority black.

City Court’s boundaries were drawn in 1993 when Baton Rouge’s population was majority white, resulting in three white districts and two black ones.

Broome argued that the population shift dictated the change in the racial balance of the court.

She noted that a Senate committee had advanced the majority-black court plan, opting to defer action on a House bill similar to Claitor’s plan.

“A demographic shift has taken place in our city,” Broome said.

Broome also argued that the time is right for the change because of a city court judgeship vacancy.

State Sen. Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb, a Baton Rouge Democrat, said legislators have consistently done redistricting based on census numbers. She said the three black-two white district plan complies with past practices.

Claitor said both plans would meet legal tests.

“This is the one I believe is fair,” Claitor said.

Under House Bill 76, the court would be “tilted to the population.” But he said the voter population in the city is “pretty much half and half” so the one at-large district is appropriate.

Follow Marsha Shuler on Twitter, @MarshaShulerCNB. For more coverage of the State Capitol, follow Louisiana Politics at http://blogs.the

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