Posted on November 6, 2023

Federal Judges Uphold Black Representation on State Supreme Court

Richard A. Webster, Verite News, November 2, 2023

Civil rights activists in New Orleans, who have been fighting for decades to ensure Black representation on the state’s highest court, scored a major victory last week when a federal appeals court rejected a lawsuit filed by Attorney General Jeff Landry seeking to toss out and redraw the first and only Black-majority Louisiana Supreme Court voting district.

A three-member panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in New Orleans voted 2-1 against Landry’s attempt to dissolve a 1992 consent decree that created a majority-Black  judicial district and instituted continuing federal oversight over the Supreme Court elections. The district now includes most of New Orleans and a portion of Jefferson Parish.

Prior to the decree, there had never been a Black state Supreme Court Justice. Afterwards, three have been elected: Revius O. Ortique, Jr., Bernette Johnson, who retired as the first Black chief justice, and her successor and current justice Piper D. Griffin. In 2012, Johnson intervened in the long-running case that resulted in the consent decree when she successfully sued to become chief justice.


Landry, who was elected the state’s next governor in October, argued in a 2021 motion to dissolve the consent decree that since it achieved its purpose of electing a Black justice, it was no longer necessary. He added that the voting districts created by the consent decree needed to be redrawn as they are no longer equitable due to changing population numbers. The New Orleans district has about 189,000 fewer residents than what would be ideal for equal representation,  he argued in his motion.

In an Oct. 25 opinion, the 5th Circuit judges rejected both arguments, stating that Landry failed to make the case that the circumstances that led to the 1992 legal agreement would not be repeated should it be lifted.

The ruling upheld a May 2022 decision by U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan, who found that.the attorney general did not show the state is committed to ensuring that a “Black opportunity district will be maintained in the future … or that the vestiges of past discrimination have been eliminated.”

Nora Ahmed, legal director for the ACLU of Louisiana, which represents Johnson, said the court’s ruling is a victory for the people of Louisiana and a defeat for those arguing that the state is in a “post-racial” era.

“We were able to show the court the power of allowing the Black population to have a voice on that court, which was of paramount importance,” Ahmed said. {snip}