SADOW: New Supreme Court Map May Provoke Rare Incumbent Challenge

The third time wasn’t the charm for Republican Second Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Jeff Cox, but don’t count him out entirely for career advancement in a couple of years.

Late last year, the Bossier Parish-based Cox began campaigning in earnest for the Second District of the Louisiana Supreme Court, as incumbent GOP Assoc. Justice Scott Chrichton faced retirement at the end of this year. He loaned himself $250,000 and spent nearly $16,000 on mailing out postcards to the district as a soft introduction to his campaign during the Christmas season.

However, one guy that won’t be getting holidays greetings from Cox in the future will be Republican Gov. Jeff Landry. Newly in office, Landry immediately stumped for reapportionment of the Court not only to bring roughly uniform population numbers to each district – the map then used had wildly differing amounts in each district, although this is not a legal nor constitutional violation – but to create two majority-minority districts. While nothing juridically required that – even as special interests were suing the state to produce this outcome that under current jurisprudence had little chance of success but which would cost the state to defend – theoretically it would give the state ammunition to have the consent decree in Chisom v. Roemer lifted, another longtime goal of Landry’s currently awaiting a U.S. Fifth Circuit appellate court hearing.

Twice this failed, but in the current regular session of the Legislature it finally succeeded passing a bill accomplishing these objectives and made it the first act from it, signed by Landry last week (to exactly zero independent coverage in the media). This new map finally succeeded by preserving district boundaries of existing Court members whose terms end in 2026 and beyond, by creating as the new M/M district the Second.

Although not all sitting justices can run for reelection, given the Constitution’s mandatory retirement age of 70 or older at the time of inauguration of a term, the arrangement assures that all meet the residency requirement to stay eligible to serve in their districts until the next election whether they must retire then. That’s bad news for Cox, and to a lesser degree GOP Assoc. Justice Jay McCallum, because the new map puts Cox in McCallum’s Fourth District while the new Second District starts in East Baton Rouge and goes up the Mississippi River to the Arkansas border, while shooting out fingers up the Red over to the Ouachita Rivers.

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Worse for Cox, most of the new Fourth was McCallum’s old Fourth, taking just Bossier, Webster, and small slices of Caddo Parishes from the old Second while losing some eastern parishes. Worst of all, and the final insult for Cox, is that McCallum’s seat comes up for election in 2026 when McCallum can run for reelection, at the same time Cox’s circuit court seat requires an election, and regardless of which seat Cox contests it would be his final term due to the age limitation. But had he been able to run for a Court seat this year, he would have been eligible to run again for that in 2034. This new map basically halves Cox’s eligible time to serve as a jurist and makes him choose his final term as either a safe seat on the Second Circuit or going for broke for one term on the Court.

Of course, Cox has battled victoriously as a challenger. He gained his present seat by knocking off an incumbent – an almost-unheard-of political outcome for a judicial race in Louisiana, and especially at the circuit or Supreme Court level which is why prospects gun for open seats. In that contest, he spent (or had spent on his behalf; technically, judges can’t campaign on their own behalf) approaching a half-million dollars, or several times his opponent. McCallum basically has zippo in his campaign account, so unless he doesn’t plan on running again history tells him he needs to start raising money and fast.

It’s been a long time since there’s been a donnybrook between an incumbent and a challenger for the Court. Louisiana might just get one for the revised Fourth District in two-and-a-half years.

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