The St. James Parish Council’s redistricting plan based on the 2010 census has been cleared by the U.S. Department of Justice, a spokesman from the Secretary of State’s Office said Wednesday.
That means candidates may qualify next week for council seats up for grabs in the Oct. 22 primary election, said Sailor Jackson, spokesman for the office.
Jackson said the plan gained federal approval on Monday, the deadline for putting council primary elections on the Oct. 22 ballot.
The Justice Department must approve, or preclear, redistricting plans in Southern states with a past history of racial discrimination to ensure they do not violate the federal Voting Rights Act.
Local and state governments nationwide must refashion election districts to account for population changes recorded in the 2010 U.S. census.
Preclearance from the department, however, does not prevent separate litigation to block and force a change to redistricting plans.
In St. James, residents filed suit on Friday in U.S. District Court in New Orleans challenging the plan that the Justice Department would later preclear Monday.
The suit seeks to have the plan declared unconstitutional and asks the court to supervise creation of a new plan, online court records show. The suit alleges the new plan dilutes black voting strength.
An earlier lawsuit brought by the same plaintiffs seeking to throw out an earlier redistricting plan was scuttled by the court this summer because of a missed court deadline.
The Parish Council had backed that earlier plan over the parish president’s veto but later agreed to another version that wound up as the target of the latest litigation.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Robert Faucheux Jr. said he plans to meet, possibly Thursday, with the seven plaintiffs who filed the suit. The meeting would be focused on talking about the Justice Department’s reapportionment approval decision and resulting litigation options.
Victor Franckiewicz Jr., Parish Council attorney, said parish officials feel they have drawn up a very good redistricting plan.
He said the plaintiffs would have to ask the court for an injunction against the parish to halt the Oct. 22 primary election for the Parish Council seats.
But the Justice Department had not yet, as of Wednesday, precleared three parishes’ redistricting plans.
They are East Feliciana, Avoyelles and Concordia parishes, Jackson said.
Those three parishes will not be able to hold police jury elections on Oct. 22.
Jackson explained that under state elections law, parishes that lack Justice Department approval can hold elections on the next available date after their redistricting plans are finally approved.
That’s likely to be the March 24 primary election if the three parishes’ plans are approved in time, Jackson said.
While Avoyelles, Concordia and East Feliciana await approval to hold the elections, incumbent jurors will remain in office, Jackson said.