Chisom v. State of Louisiana: Ensuring Access to Equal Representation in the Judicial Branch

Date Filed: 07/05/2012

Chisom v. State of Louisiana

Ensuring Black voters in Orleans Parish have an equal opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice to the Louisiana Supreme Court

The Legal Defense Fund (LDF), the law firm Cozen O’Connor, and Louisiana civil rights attorneys Ronald Wilson and William Quigley represent Ronald Chisom, Marie Bookman, and the Urban League of Louisiana in their effort to protect the landmark Chisom consent decree  that ensured Black voters in Orleans Parish have an equal opportunity to elect a candidate of their  choice to one of the seven seats on the Louisiana Supreme Court. The case has its roots in Louisiana’s long history of discrimination in access to equal representation in the judicial branch.

The Chisom Consent Decree was adopted by a federal court in 1992 to ensure that Black voters in the state have an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice to the Louisiana Supreme Court.  The decree was issued following the landmark 1991 United States Supreme Court ruling in Chisom v. Roemer, also litigated by LDF, which held that racial vote dilution in judicial elections is barred by Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Before advocates filed the Chisom lawsuit, no Black person had ever been elected to the Louisiana Supreme Court. Since the decree was entered, three Black justices have been elected to the Chisom seat.

The Legal Defense Fund (LDF), co-counsel, along with other parties have successfully opposed the Louisiana Attorney General’s motion to dissolve the consent decree in 2021 before the federal trial court in May 2022 and subsequently before a three-judge panel in October 2023.

On May 16, 2024, the full panel of judges of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals will reconsider the lower federal court order that leaves in place the landmark consent decree that protects the voting rights of Black voters in Orleans Parish.  

Case Timeline

January 2021

In January 2021, then-Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry filed a motion to dissolve the Chisom Consent Decree.

February 2022

In February 2022, LDF, the law firm Cozen O’Connor, and Louisiana civil rights attorneys, William Quigley, Ronald Wilson, and John Adcock, filed an opposition to Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry’s motion to dissolve the Chisom Consent Decree. Ronald Chisom and Marie Bookman were original plaintiffs in the Chisom lawsuit and are continuing as plaintiffs in this action, joined by the Urban League of Louisiana.

LDF’s brief argues that in its efforts to dissolve the Chisom Decree, the Attorney General did not come close to satisfying its burden of demonstrating that the remedy it seeks — the complete dissolution of the Consent Decree — is warranted. The Attorney General presented no evidence of changed circumstances that would support disturbing the decree and it has not shown that the fundamental purpose of the decree has been satisfied. In fact, the State has not shown that the same vote dilution harms that gave rise to the Chisom litigation would not immediately occur in Orleans Parish absent the decree.

March 2022

On March 24, 2022, the Eastern District Court held arguments on the Attorney General’s Motion to Dissolve the Chisom Consent Decree. Read the transcript of the proceedings here.

May 2022

On May 24, 2022, the Eastern District Court denied the Attorney General’s Motion to Dissolve the Chisom Consent Decree. The lower federal court ruled that the Attorney General failed to satisfy his burden to show that dissolution of the decree was warranted. The Attorney General appealed this decision to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

March 2023

In March 2023, LDF defended the historic consent decree at oral argument before the Fifth Circuit. LDF Senior Counsel Leah Aden emphasized the lack of evidence provided by the Attorney General in a failed attempt to show that the decree was no longer needed. Audio of the hearing can be found here.

October 2023

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s denial of the Attorney General’s Motion to Dissolve the Consent Decree, leaving the protection for Black voters in Orleans Parish in place. The Attorney General sought the Fifth Circuit’s reconsideration of this decision.

May 2024

On May 16, 2024, the full panel of judges of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals will reconsider a lower federal court order that ensures that Black voters in Orleans Parish, Louisiana have an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice to the Louisiana Supreme Court.

In advance of the May 16 oral argument, the Chisom plaintiffs, U.S. DOJ Intervenor-Plaintiff, and former Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Bernette Johnson Intervenor-plaintiff, filed supplemental briefs, available here, here, and here, respectively, urging the en banc court to affirm the lower trial court’s May 2022 decision to deny the state’s bid to dissolve the consent decree. That position is supported by “friend of the court” amicus briefs filed by leading remedies scholars (Rick Hasen et al.) and Louisiana’s Black legal bar association (the Martinet Society et al).

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