Today, Rep. Randal L. Gaines, Chair of Louisiana’s Legislative Black Caucus, introduced legislation, House Bill (H.B.) 861, to change the way that judges are elected to the 32nd Judicial District Court (32nd JDC), the state court that presides over Terrebonne Parish. The purpose of this bill is to give all Terrebonne voters, particularly Black voters, an opportunity to elect a judge of their choice in this five-member state court. The bill responds to a federal court ruling in August 2017 that determined that the existing method of electing judges to the 32nd JDC violated the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act because it diminished the voting power of Black voters. The court has given the Legislature, the governmental body with the authority to redistrict, the first opportunity to remedy the violations that the court found. The court has made clear that it will impose a solution if the Legislature does not provide a remedy.
With the state facing a billion-dollar deficit, this bill proposes a solution that could bring the litigation, which has been costly and time-consuming since it was filed in 2014, to an end. Plaintiffs’ counsel applauds Rep. Gaines for proposing a remedy to the constitutional and statutory violations in Terrebonne, even though he represents another part of Louisiana. Shamefully, not one member of Terrebonne’s local legislative delegation acted in response to the federal court’s ruling and invitation to correct the wrongs, despite those legislators’ unsubstantiated refrain that they serve all voters in Terrebonne. That very pattern of blocking Black voters’ ability to elect their preferred judges to the 32nd JDC—by opposing six other legislative solutions between 1997 and 2011 to the voter disenfranchisement in Terrebonne—is the type of obstruction that led the federal court to find that Louisiana violated Black voters’ statutory and constitutional right to vote in the first place. However, Black voters in Terrebonne and the plaintiffs who brought a challenge to the status quo in Terrebonne are optimistic that that pattern will be broken—either via legislative support for this bill or the federal court stepping in to ensure equal voting rights.
Founded in 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization and 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. 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 NAACP Legal Defense Fund or LDF.