The Jan. 29 article regarding the Tulane University report on the 'gavel gap: rightly notes the stark under-representation of women and people of color on the Louisiana state bench, yet does not analyze why this gap persists.
The at-large electoral system for many of Louisiana’s state courts — historically and into the present — has blocked black voters from electing judges that reflect the diversity of their communities. Nowhere is the inequality resulting from this scheme more apparent than in the method of electing judges for the 32nd Judicial District Court encompassing Terrebonne Parish.
In Terrebonne, white residents comprise 70 percent of the population, while black residents comprise only 20 percent. This racial makeup, in combination with at-large voting and white voters’ consistent refusal to vote in meaningful numbers for the candidates preferred by black voters, dilutes the black vote. White voters control who is elected to all five judicial seats in Terrebonne, and as a result, a black judge has never won a contested judicial election on the district court since Louisiana established it in 1968.
In August 2017, a federal court ruled that Louisiana’s maintenance of the at-large voting system for the district court serving Terrebonne is intentionally discriminatory and dilutes Black voting strength in violation of the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution. The ruling and subsequent rejection of a premature appeal by the state as the remedial process is underway now paves the way for an end to a nearly 50-year-old discriminatory voting practice.
As Louisiana’s legislative sessions begins this March, LDF is hopeful that the state’s elected officials will devise an acceptable remedial plan that gives black voters the chance to elect their preferred judges for the first time in the history of the court.
NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.