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Louisiana High Court Races Rigged Against Blacks, NAACP Says (1)

July 24, 2019, 6:25 PMUpdated: July 24, 2019, 8:26 PM

Louisiana’s method for electing justices to its state Supreme Court is rigged against black voters, the state chapter of the NAACP said in a lawsuit.

“Although the voting-age population of Louisiana is approximately 30% African American,” the state “has had only two African-American justices in its history,” the complaint said.

The civil rights group blames the makeup of the state’s seven Supreme Court electoral districts—each used to elect a single Supreme Court justice—for a lack of diversity on the high court bench.

“African Americans comprise a majority in only one of the seven Supreme Court electoral districts,” the July 23 complaint said. The remaining six are majority-white.

“As a result of the demographics of those districts and racially polarized voting, African Americans have been prevented from equal participation in the election of justices,” the complaint alleges.

The complaint asks a Baton Rouge-based federal court to strike down the districts as a violation of the Voting Rights Act, and to order “the implementation of a new method of election for the Louisiana Supreme Court.”

The lawsuit comes on the heels of a report detailing how judicial elections across the country disfavor minorities.

The report by the progressive Brennan Center found that 15% of state high court seats are held by minorities even though they make up nearly 40% of the nation’s population.

Nearly half of the state supreme court’s are all white, the report said, also noting that few judges of color reach the high court bench through elections.

The Louisiana case is assigned to Judge John W. deGravelles, who was appointed by President Barack Obama.

A status report is due Sept. 5, with a scheduling conference set for Sept. 15.

The NAACP, along with two African-American voters, are being represented by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Baton Rouge attorney Arthur Thomas, and Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner.

The Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office, which is named as a defendant in the litigation, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

(Adds lawyers representing NAACP)

To contact the reporter on this story: Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson in Washington at krobinson@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com; John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com

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