Leah Aden writes a blog post for the American Constitution Society in which she describes, in detail, LDF’s challenge to Terrebonne Parish’s discriminatory at-large system of voting. Aden explains that without this litigation, plaintiffs and other Black voters in Terrebonne wouldn’t have recourse to change their treatment as second-class citizens.
by Leah Aden, Assistant Counsel, Political Participation Group, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund
* Ms. Aden is a member of the litigation team in Terrebonne Parish Branch NAACP et al. v. Jindal et al.
Last week, nearly 60 years after the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc’s (LDF) client, Autherine Lucy, sought to become the first Black student to integrate the University of Alabama, LDF and cooperating Louisiana attorney Ronald L. Wilson filed a federal lawsuit to empower Black voters in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana to elect their candidates of choice for the 32nd Judicial District Court for the first time in the Parish’s history.
The lawsuit, Terrebonne Parish Branch NAACP et al. v. Jindal et al., filed on behalf of the Terrebonne Parish Branch NAACP and several Black voters in Terrebonne, challenges the Parish’s at-large method of electing judges for this state court as a violation of the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution.
For nearly two centuries, Terrebonne Parish has used at-large voting to maintain a racially segregated 32nd Judicial District Court. That system for electing judges has guaranteed that Black voters, in spite of having tried in election after election, cannot elect their judges of choice for this court. As a result, a Black candidate has never been elected as a judge on the 32nd Judicial District Court. Meanwhile, a sitting judge on this parish court has been suspended for wearing blackface, an orange prison jumpsuit, handcuffs, and an afro wig to a Halloween party as part of his offensive parody of a Black prison inmate.
This lawsuit seeks to bring greater inclusion and democratic legitimacy to Terrebonne Parish’s political process through district-based voting. For too long, at-large voting, in combination with racial bloc voting, has functioned as a structural wall of exclusion to this parish court. Although Black voters comprise nearly 20 percent of the Parish’s voting-age population, and consistently vote together in parish-wide elections, the at-large electoral method dilutes their cohesive vote for their preferred candidates of choice.
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