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Overcoming White Supremacy in Louisiana

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Monday, February 10, 2014

Brentin Mock writes for Demos about our case in Terrebonne Parish challenging the discriminatory at-large system of voting. He highlights the state's long history of voter discrimination and argues that "vestiges of that Louisiana-styled white supremacy can be found today in Terrebonne Parish (county), where African Americans have been unable to serve as judges in their district’s court system since it was founded in 1822."

When Louisiana lawmakers convened in 1898 to update the state constitution, one of the major complaints among them was that the recently ratified 15th Amendment prevented them from disenfranchising black people as they desired. The president of that convention, E.B. Kruttschnitt, proclaimed that a white majority would eventually overcome the 15th amendment’s voting rights mandate. Said Kruttschnitt:

“I say to you, that we can appeal to the conscience of the nation, both judicial and legislative and I don’t believe that they will take the responsibility of striking down the system which we have reared in order to protect the purity of the ballot box and to perpetuate the supremacy of the Anglo-Saxon race in Louisiana.”

Vestiges of that Louisiana-styled white supremacy can be found today in Terrebonne Parish (county), where African Americans have been unable to serve as judges in their district’s court system since it was founded in 1822. Because of the at-large election system there, it’s mathematically impossible for black voters to elect a judge of their choice. White voters constitute 80 percent of the electorate and they tend to vote as a bloc during open primaries. This is why the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) filed a lawsuit in federal district court to change the system into one where each judge is elected by a different slice of the electorate, at least one of which would be made up of black voters.

“For nearly two centuries, Terrebonne Parish has used at-large voting to maintain a racially segregated 32nd Judicial District Court,” said Ryan Haygood, Director of LDF’s Political Participation Group. “That system for electing judges has guaranteed that Black voters, in spite of having tried in election after election, cannot elect their judges of choice to this court. This lawsuit seeks to bring greater inclusion and democratic legitimacy to Terrebonne Parish’s political process through district-based voting.”

Click here to read the full article.