Today, a hearing concluded in a battle that will determine the fate of a longstanding Louisiana Supreme Court seat, anchored in Orleans Parish, that was created as a result of a 1992 consent decree, and amended in 2000 to ensure Black voters in the state have an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. The Legal Defense Fund (LDF), the law firm Cozen O’Connor, and Louisiana civil rights attorneys, William Quigley and Ronald Wilson, defended the continued need for the historic consent decree before the Fifth Circuit on behalf of Ronald Chisom, Marie Bookman, and the Urban League of Louisiana in response to Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry’s motion to dissolve it.
At the hearing, LDF Deputy Director of 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 and offered that the continuation of racially polarized voting in the state was solid proof that it should remain. Audio of the hearing can be found here.
The narrow question before the appellate Court is whether the district court abused its discretion in denying the Attorney General’s weak effort to vacate the consent decree. It did not. The Attorney General agreed to “restructure” Louisiana’s Supreme Court to “ensure” a durable non-dilutive Orleans-based district. The district court correctly found that the Attorney General failed to satisfy its heavy burden to show (i) that the consent decree is no longer equitable and in the public interest or that (ii) illegal vote dilution in Orleans Parish is fully remedied and is not at immediate risk of recurring absent the decree.
“This effort by the Louisiana Attorney General to dissolve such a historic and necessary mode of representation is another example of institutional racism we must challenge,” said Ronald Chisom, the original named plaintiff in Chisom v. Roemer. “It is shameful that our government still cannot recognize and protect such basic rights for Black people that have historically been robbed of our voting power. We will continue on as we have — reiterating the impact of this seat on the bench and the importance of expanding access to our institutions.”
“The Chisom seat is a crucial remedy for the long and well-documented history of voting discrimination in Louisiana,” said attorney William Quigley. “As the lower court found, Mr. Landry has provided no reasoning for the consent decree’s dissolution, which would stamp out the very little representation Black voters have to begin with. This legal team has defended Black Louisianans’ right to representation on this court for nearly 40 years — and we certainly won’t stop now.”
In December 2021, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry filed a motion to dissolve the consent decree, which was denied by the Eastern District Court in May 2022. However, rather than accept the decree’s importance to Black representation and draw a new district map that complies with the decree by ensuring Black electoral opportunity in Orleans Parish, the defendants appealed the lower court’s decision to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Before advocates filed the Chisom lawsuit in 1986, no Black person had ever been elected to the Louisiana Supreme Court. Since then, the only three Black justices, out of more than the 100 justices in Louisiana Supreme Court’s history, have been elected from the Orleans-based district that the Attorney General now seeks to terminate. The decree, issued following the landmark 1991 United States Supreme Court ruling in Chisom v. Roemer, also litigated by LDF, provided a remedy for racial vote dilution in Louisiana’s election of its state Supreme Court justices by ordering a new map that contained a single-member district comprised of a majority of Black voters anchored in Orleans Parish. The case has its roots in Louisiana’s long history of racial discrimination in access to the judicial branch.
As a direct result of the Consent Decree, Black voters in Orleans Parish have successfully elected candidates of their choice to the Louisiana Supreme Court: Justice Revius O. Ortique Jr. (1992-1994); Chief Justice Bernette J. Johnson (1994- 2020); and Justice Piper D. Griffin (2020-present).
Founded in 1940, the Legal Defense Fund (LDF) is the nation’s first civil rights law organization. LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute is a multi-disciplinary and collaborative hub within LDF that launches targeted campaigns and undertakes innovative research to shape the civil rights narrative. In media attributions, please refer to us as the Legal Defense Fund or LDF. Please note that LDF has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights.