The question of whether the rights of black voters are violated by the practice of at-large voting for judges in Terrebonne Parish is now fully in the hands of a federal judge, whose verdict is expected in August.
Friday afternoon more than one hundred black men and women from Terrebonne Parish packed a third-floor courtroom at the Russell B. Long Federal Courthouse in Baton Rouge, to witness the last day of testimony in an eight-day trial that stretched over two months. Many came from in busses chartered by local churches.
U.S. District Court Judge James Brady, who sat through testimony that ranged from nearly superfluous to highly emotional, will be reviewing thousands of pages that are now part of the trial record, to determine whether the at-large voting scheme used for decades in Terrebonne Parish violates Section 2 of the U.S. Voting Rights Act, and to some degree whether that can be cured by establishment of a minority sub-district.
Ultimately, it is the lengthy testimony of experts and their eye-glazing, voluminous reports on matters historical and statistical that will most aid Judge Brady’s decision-making process.
The attorneys who brought the case to the court are veterans of Section 2 litigation, and traveled a long way for the presentation. Leah Aden and Victorien Wu are staff lawyers for the New York based NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Michael deLeeuw is a litigation specialist at Cozen O’Connor, an international law firm known for a commitment to social justice and ranked as one of the top 100 firms in America. Ron Wilson of the New Orleans Blake Jones law firm has demonstrated a career devoted to civil rights issues.
“This case raises fundamental legal questions about the equality of opportunity for black residents in Terrebonne to participate in the democratic process generally, and the impact on black voters in particular,” Aden said in her opening statement before U.S. District Judge James Brady. “At large voting in Terrebonne operates as a structural barrier that denies black voters an equal opportunity to elect their candidates of choice.”
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