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July 23, 2019

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Files Voting Rights Lawsuit Against Louisiana Over Discriminatory Maps for State Supreme Court

Only 2 African Americans Elected to State’s Highest Court Since 1904, Suit Seeks to Address Unlawful System

Baton Rouge, LA and Washington, D.C.—Today, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee) filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Louisiana State Conference of the NAACP and two individual black voters alleging that the method of electing members of the Louisiana Supreme Court violates the Voting Rights Act. The suit maintains that Louisiana’s electoral map for electing justices denies black voters an equal opportunity to elect justices of their choice. Louisiana’s population is 32% African American but just one of state’s seven Supreme Court districts is majority-black in population. As a result, six of the seven justices on the most powerful court in the state are white. The suit, which highlights that the state’s Supreme Court districts have not been redrawn since 1999, alleges that a second majority-black district must be drawn to address the harm to black voters.

“Since 1813, only 2 African Americans have been elected to serve on the Louisiana Supreme Court, the highest court in the state. Louisiana Supreme Court districts effectively silence the voices of black voters outside of New Orleans. As a result, black voters are underrepresented on a body that issues a vast array of consequential decisions, including matters of life and death” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Clarke continued: “It is time to bring Louisiana into compliance with the Voting Rights Act to ensure that Black voters have a fair opportunity to elect judges of their choice. The state must redraw these districts for the first time in 20 years and ensure that its most powerful judges fully and fairly reflect the diversity of the state.”

The Supreme Court of Louisiana is the state’s court of last resort. Prior to a successful Voting Rights Act lawsuit in the early 1990s, all of its members were white. As a result of that suit, Chisom v. Roemer, the state created the first and only majority-black Supreme Court district centered around New Orleans. However, the remaining six districts have retained majority-white populations and have consistently elected white justices. Black representation has, and continues to be, sparse. Although Supreme Court justices have been elected in Louisiana since 1904, only two African American justices have ever served on the Court. In 2012, a white justice argued that he, and not African-American Justice Bernette Johnson, should become the next Chief Justice because part of Justice Johnson’s tenure on the high court was supposedly illegitimate. Only when Justice Johnson, represented by the Lawyers’ Committee, obtained a court order, did she become the state’s current Chief Justice.

Today’s lawsuit was filed in partnership with pro bono counsel Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP and attorney Arthur Thomas in Baton Rouge. The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana, is part of the Lawyers’ Committee’s national initiative to bring state courts into compliance with the Voting Rights Act and promote judicial diversity.

Mike McClanahan, President of the NAACP Louisiana State Conference, said, “The NAACP Louisiana State Conference continues to dismantle the vestiges of slavery, segregation, racism and its Jim Crow laws by filing a lawsuit against the State of Louisiana and its Secretary of State. The suit is filed to further dismantle and redraw the Louisiana Supreme Court judicial election boundaries. All lower courts in Louisiana reflect the makeup and attitude of an ever evolving society except the highest court in this state. The Louisiana State Conference is looking forward to dismantling other barriers that prohibit this state from being the greatest state for all people.”

Alec Farr, a partner at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, said, “The Louisiana Supreme Court is the highest court in the state and renders final decisions that profoundly affect the lives of all Louisianans. The current system prevents African American voters from electing candidates of their choice to this most important tribunal. It must be changed so that the Supreme Court better reflects the diversity of the state in the 21st century.”

To read the full complaint, click here.

About the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. Now in its 56th year, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is continuing its quest to “Move America Toward Justice.” The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice for all, particularly in the areas of criminal justice, fair housing and community development, economic justice, educational opportunities, and voting rights.
About Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP

With over 1,400 lawyers in 31 offices across North America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia, Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP is a fully integrated global law firm that provides clients with connected legal advice, wherever and whenever they need it. The firm is known for its relationship-driven, collaborative culture, diverse legal experience and industry-shaping innovation and offers clients one of the most active M&A, real estate, financial services, litigation and corporate risk practices in the world.

 

Contact:
Reynolds Graves, Lawyers’ Committee, [email protected], 202-662-8375.