Attorneys for Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice John Weimer on Tuesday asked a federal judge to hold an expedited hearing within three days in hopes of reversing a judge’s order blocking him from running for reelection.
Weimer is essentially arguing that a May 4 order to stop the election, handed down by federal Judge John deGravelles in Baton Rouge at the request of Attorney General Jeff Landry and the State Conference of the NAACP, is keeping him from his constitutional right to run for another 10-year term on Nov. 8.
Weimer and three sheriffs in his Supreme Court judicial district say they need the federal court to rule quickly because the qualifying period of July 20-22 is rapidly approaching. It appears that the election cannot be held if no candidates can qualify by the upcoming deadline.
“We’re going to get timed out if this thing lingers,” said Harold Block, one of the attorneys representing Weimer, Lafourche Parish Sheriff Craig Webre, St. Charles Parish Greg Champagne and St. John Parish Mike Tregre. All four, allied with Weimer, have filed as private citizens.
On Friday, deGravelles said he would have a magistrate judge decide whether Weimer and the three sheriffs can intervene in the case. If that judge rules in their favor, deGravelles would then rule on the merits of their argument.
Weimer and the others are saying they don’t have time to go that route.
DeGravelles’ order involves a lawsuit filed by the NAACP in 2019 arguing that two of Louisiana’s Supreme Court districts should have a Black majority in a state where about 33% of the voters are Black. Louisiana currently has one Black-majority district, which is centered in New Orleans and is represented by Justice Piper Griffin. Landry wants to keep the single Black-majority district system.
The May ruling by deGravelles, known as a “stay,” stops all Supreme Court races.
But it affects Weimer most directly because he is the only Supreme Court justice up for reelection this year. Justices run in staggered terms every two years. The next justice is not on the ballot until 2024.
The NAACP and Landry’s office have not responded to questions about why they sought the stay.
In the filing Tuesday, Weimer and three sheriffs say there’s no reason why his election can’t go forward even as the federal court determines whether state law requires the Supreme Court to have a second Black-majority district.
“Since 2019, three justices have been elected to the Supreme Court,” Block said. “Those judges were not affected by this lawsuit. Why is the election in the 6th Supreme Court district being stayed?”
News that deGravelles’ order has put Weimer’s election on hold, reported on Friday by The Times-Picayune | The Advocate, has the legal world buzzing about the motives of the NAACP and Landry. While the two sides disagree on a second Black district, they joined forces in seeking the stay. Are they simply trying to buy a bit of time to reach a settlement? Or is there a behind-the-scenes political play to keep Weimer from winning and serving another 10 years as the chief justice?
Weimer’s current term ends Dec. 31. What’s unclear is whether he would remain in office if his term ends, and the election is not held, or he would be allowed to continue serving and would be able to run whenever the election is called. Weimer is 67. He would have to be reelected before he turns 70, when he becomes ineligible to run.
Known for his unpretentious manner, Weimer was first elected to the high court in 2001 from Thibodaux, in a race where he was heavily outspent. He won reelection in 2002 and again in 2012. In the latter race, he ran unopposed and surprised contributors by returning their campaign checks.
The 6th Supreme Court District, with about 600,000 residents, consists of 12 coastal parishes: Assumption, Iberia, Lafourche, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. James, St. John the Baptist, St. Martin, St. Mary, Terrebonne, and a portion of the west bank of Jefferson.