Jindal approves Jeff remap - Black-majority court district drawn

Times-Picayune, The (New Orleans, LA) - Thursday, June 7, 2012
Author: Paul Purpura West Bank bureau

Gov. Bobby Jindal has approved a redistricting plan for the 24th Judicial District Court, drawn to increase the chances that a third African-American is elected to the state bench in Jefferson Parish. 

Rep. Girod Jackson's House Bill 767, which Jindal signed Friday, essentially means voters in a subdistrict comprising precincts in southern Kenner and western West Jefferson will elect three of the court's 16 judges instead of two. African-Americans make up about 67 percent of the population in that subdistrict. 

"I'm extremely pleased that the judges of the 24th Judicial District Court agreed to work with me," said Jackson, D-Harvey, who successfully changed the court's election sections after several years of attempts. 

The redistricting plan needs approval from the Justice Department, but Jackson said he anticipates no problems. 

The bill reduces from seven to three the number of subdistricts in Jefferson Parish, leaving intact only the minority subdistrict. The rest of Jefferson Parish is divided into two subdistricts, with East Jefferson and most Kenner voters electing nine judges and West Bank voters electing the remaining four. Whites make up the majority of voters in those sections, according to redistricting data. 

Jefferson Parish was carved into seven subdistricts about 20 years ago, in response to a lawsuit filed by black lawyers who alleged that the parish's at-large method of electing judges violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by diluting minority voting strength. As a result of redistricting that followed, two black judges have been elected, to Divisions C and P, since 1992. 

Through Jackson's bill, the Division G seat, currently held by Robert Pitre of Crown Point, will be elected from the minority district beginning in 2014. Pitre will not seek re-election, Jackson said. "We're not putting anyone out of a seat," he said, adding that the suggestion originated with the court. 

Chief Judge John Molaison acknowledged that some judges "had some reservations and concerns," but the bench otherwise "took no position" on the bill. 

"The 24th JDC as a bench did not support the bill," Molaison said. 

Former Sen. Derrick Shepherd first attempted a redistricting plan to add a minority judge in 2008. But Jindal vetoed it to wait until after the 2010 census. Jackson resurrected the effort last year, through a bill that would have added a seat to the minority subdistrict based on the next vacancy. The session ended without the bill passing, but Jackson secured a commitment from fellow lawmakers and judges to work on the issue this year. 

As many as six 24th Judicial District seats are expected to be up for grabs in 2014, as three judges are expected to run for the 5th Circuit and others will retire.