This lawsuit asserts that the method of electing judges who serve on the Baton Rouge, Louisiana City Court violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by denying African Americans an equal opportunity to participate in judgeship elections. Plaintiffs are African-American voters who live in Baton Rouge and who are eligible to vote in judgeship elections.
Since 1993, the City Court’s five judges have been elected from two separate districts, called Election Sections. Section 1 is majority black in population and elects two judges, while Section 2 is majority white and elects three judges. Baton Rouge has experienced a change in the racial composition of its population since 1993, with African Americans now constituting a majority. Nonetheless, white voters continue to control the election of 60 percent of the judges in the context of racially polarized voting in judgeship elections and other local electoral factors. Efforts in the state legislature to modify the election system to reflect African Americans’ current voting strength have failed.
Trial began in August 2014 and, after a recess of several months, concluded on November 19, 2014. Plaintiffs presented extensive evidence regarding the difficulties African-American voters face in winning judicial elections in the majority-white election section, including the ongoing pattern of polarized voting, Louisiana’s long history of discrimination in voting and other spheres, and the substantial socioeconomic disparities between the city’s African-American and white residents. Plaintiffs also presented evidence that an additional majority-black district could be drawn to allow African Americans a fair opportunity to elect an additional candidate of their choice.
On December 10, 2014, the parties submitted proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. On June 9, 2015, the district court ruled in favor of defendants. Before plaintiffs had an opportunity to appeal, however, the Louisiana legislature passed a new judicial districting plan which met most of Plaintiffs’ concerns, and Plaintiffs moved for an order that the Section 2 claims had been rendered moot and that the judgment in favor of defendants be vacated. The trial court agreed that the Section 2 claims were moot, but declined to vacate its judgment. Plaintiffs appealed that decision to the Fifth Circuit, which held argument on July 7, 2016.
Click here to read Plaintiffs’ Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law.