Terrible Bill O’ The Day: Racial Set-Asides On The Louisiana Supreme Court

Last year was the year we were supposed to have knock-down, drag-out fights over race and redistricting. It seems that state representative Randal Gaines, a Democrat from LaPlace who was formerly the chair of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus, didn’t get the memo. Gaines dredged this divisive crap up again with HB 380, a bill that would carve out a second majority-black district in the Louisiana Supreme Court.

We’ve gone over this time and again, but while Louisiana’s population is about one-third black, it’s exceptionally difficult to make congressional or Supreme Court or Public Service Commission districts which are majority-black. Here’s why – the majority of the black population in Louisiana lives in the city proper of New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport, and none of those cities are large enough on their own to encompass a district of that size.

A congressional district (we have six of them) is something on the order of 750,000 people. A state Supreme Court district is about 665,000 people; we have seven.

Orleans Parish, for example, is majority black. But the population of Orleans is estimated as 396,000 people. It’s a little more than half of a congressional district and maybe 60 percent of a Supreme Court district. To make a majority-black congressional district you generally have to snake it upriver so that it picks up the northern part of Baton Rouge, which is what Louisiana has done with the 2nd Congressional District. Nobody really complains too much about that, and the Louisiana Supreme Court district which roughly conforms to the 2nd Congressional is essentially Orleans, a chunk of St. Bernard Parish, and the West Bank of Jefferson Parish. Nobody complains about that either.

The other six Supreme Court districts are generally white and Republican.

Last year there was a plan put forth that would have expanded the Supreme Court from seven justices to nine, and therefore make the districts smaller. That would have opened up as many as three majority-black districts. The plan actually had some support on the Republican side, including from Attorney General Jeff Landry; the theory was you’d have a 6-3 Supreme Court which would have six Antonin Scalias on it based on how stout those districts would be, and with a majority like that who cares whether there were one, two or three black justices?

That plan had some merit to it, and with nine districts you could draw a map that would make three majority-black districts which didn’t look like Rorschach tests. Obviously you’d have an Orleans Parish-centered district that picked up a little of West Jefferson, you’d have a North Baton Rouge-centered district which grabbed a bit of West Baton Rouge Parish and found its way into the Felicianas, and you might have a Shreveport-centered district that snaked along the northern reaches of the state to find its way into Monroe somehow. Those wouldn’t be all that obnoxious.

But that plan couldn’t get majority support and Gaines’ bill doesn’t go that route. It keeps the Supreme Court at seven justices, but it gerrymanders its way into two majority-black districts. Check out the new, hilarious 5th district in this map…


Really, Randy?

Here’s what’s even dumber about this. Gaines gives up even trying to make these districts equitable in terms of their population. The target population for each district is 665,000 people, but District 5 only has 644,000 (it’s 56 percent black). And District 7 is only 636,000 people (it’s 55 percent black).

So the new plan is not just to carve out majority-black districts, it’s to give the residents in those districts a proportionately greater vote than the white people in the other districts.

Call us when you’re ready to do the three-fifths compromise the other way, we guess.

We don’t need to belabor this too much. It’s a stupid idea badly done, particularly given that if he wants more black Supreme Court justices there was a way to do that which might have a little support across the aisle. So for this exercise in pointless and divisive attempts at racial/political advantage, we’re giving today’s Terrible Bill O’ The Day award to Randal Gaines.



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