“One man, one vote” – Time to redistrict East Baton Rouge Parish’s District Court ?
Appropriate minority representation in Louisiana’s judicial branch is an issue that has been much litigated over the years, and there is a reasonable likelihood of further litigation to come.
This litigation has a historical basis: in 1986, attorney (and now District Judge) Janice Clark filed a lawsuit alleging inadequate minority representation in Louisiana’s judicial branch, and her lawsuit was settled in 1993 by the creation of judicial “sub districts” within existing judicial districts to increase the number of black judges (in Louisiana, a judicial district consists of one or more parishes). This solution had its intended effect: the number of black judges substantially increased. However, the “solution” (the creation of minority sub districts) was a static one, as the district lines weren’t adjusted to reflect changes in population, and today, many judicial districts elect judges on the basis of 1990 Census population for the affected parishes.
To illustrate the impact of not making necessary adjustments, East Baton Rouge Parish has three judicial sub districts, and the sub district in the southern part of the parish contains 92% more people than the sub district for the inner city portions of Baton Rouge.
This imbalance has attracted the attention of a federal judge, who recently castigated the Louisiana legislature for being “irresponsible”, and because this imbalance is on his radar, he is allowing a related lawsuit (pertaining to the districting of Baton Rouge City Court) to proceed. We therefore see this as an issue that has some traction, which is why we stated earlier that we see the reasonable likelihood of future litigation.
From the standpoint of population equity, each sub district (which elects five judges) needs to be redrawn so that each judge can run in a sub district containing an equal population. When examining the three sub districts of East Baton Rouge Parish, Section 1 encompasses the inner city portions of Baton Rouge. Section 2 encompasses the northern part of the parish, as well as Central/suburban neighborhoods east of Airline Highway and north of I-12. Section 3 is the “South Baton Rouge district”, and includes most precincts south of Florida Boulevard all the way to the Ascension Parish line.
The demographics of the current judicial sub districts are as follows:
Section 1: 99,829 population (32% under populated) and 86% black voter registration
Section 2: 148,191 population (1% over populated) and 45% black voter registration
Section 3: 192,151 population (31% over populated) and 22% black voter registration
Since Section 1(the inner city district) needs 47,000 more people to have an appropriate population, this district needs to take in additional territory, and since this is the minority sub district, there are demographically similar precincts to the north and east in neighborhoods like Melrose, Brownfields, Park Forest, Villa Del Rey, and Monticello.
Most of these added neighborhoods come from Section 2 (the “northern district”), which means that Section 2 would need to expand southwards towards Tiger Bend Road to meet the equal population standard. Once those two sub districts are drawn, the remainder (Section 3) contains (in general) all territory south of Florida Boulevard and west of Airline Highway. The demographics of the revised district lines would be as follows:
Section 1: 147,036 population (1% under populated) and 86% black voter registration
Section 2: 148,162 population (1% over populated) and 28% black voter registration
Section 3: 144,974 population (1% over populated) and 19% black voter registration
Normally, redistricting in “mid decade” is an unusual occurrence, but since a federal judge has taken interest in these judicial sub districts because they are based off 1990 Census population, we see this as an issue that will resurface soon, and as such, we wanted to show what a reasonable redistricting plan would look like. Plus, since a key provision of the Voting Rights Act was struck down last year, we see judicial districting as a test case for Voting Rights Act cases in the near future.