“If you look at the 23rd Judicial District or the 16th Judicial District, they all have districts like the one we’re trying to achieve, which is a district where black voters are the majority,” said Leah Aden, attorney for the New York-based NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which is representing the local NAACP chapter in the trial.
NAACP activists said Terrebonne’s judicial district violates the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination when voting, because it denies black voters the equal opportunity to elect their preferred candidates.
Aden said that even though black residents make up 20 percent of Terrebonne Parish’s population, no black candidate has ever been elected in a contested election to the 32nd Judicial District Court under the current at-large system.
“The candidates preferred by black voters lose, and that’s because white voters prefer different candidates,” Aden said. “There’s something called racially polarized voting, where white voters who are the majority prefer certain candidates. So, when those candidates don’t match up with what the minority community wants, the minority community continues to lose out. Because of that we’ve never seen a black parish president, a black district attorney, a black parish tax assessor or a black Houma city judge.”
A black candidate lost a 1994 election for the 32nd Judicial District Court after receiving 72 percent support from black Terrebonne voters but only received 1 percent of the white vote, Aden said. In a 2011 race for tax assessor, Aden said a black candidate received more than 70 percent of support from black voters but only 2.5 of white votes and ultimately lost the election.
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