BATON ROUGE (CN) – Residents of St. John the Baptist Parish, just north of New Orleans, say their votes are unconstitutionally “diluted” because of an unfair allotment of judges in appellate circuits. Residents say their parish has continued to grow in population as other parishes have shrunk, but the laws allotting judges to circuit courts has not changed in 30 years.
The plaintiffs, Patrick Sellars and Francis Guidry Jr., say that additional judgeships have been added to other state circuits, but statewide changes in population have not been accounted for in assignment of judges.
Louisiana courts of appeal formerly had only civil jurisdiction. But in 1980, the state constitution was amended to add criminal jurisdiction to the courts of appeal. As a result, the 4th circuit state court was split into the 4th and 5th circuits.
The 5th circuit, in Gretna, includes Jefferson, St. Charles, St. John the Baptist and St. James Parishes. It has eight judges.
The 5th circuit nearly doubled in population from 1960 to 1990, growing from 266,796 residents to 515,618, according to the complaint. It adds that in the past 10 years, the 5th circuit has grown faster than the statewide population increase of 0.5 percent, while the populations in all parishes of the 4th circuit have declined. But the state has not reapportioned the districts of the courts of appeals since 1980.
Jefferson Parish residents, for instance, vote as one voice for six judges, while St. Charles Parish residents get just one judge. Meanwhile, the plaintiffs say, the votes of St. John the Baptist residents are split between St. Charles and St. James parishes.
The plaintiffs this causes the votes St. John the Baptist Parish residents to be “diluted against residents of other parishes,” causing them to be unfairly represented in the makeup of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeal.
The plaintiffs say that if the defendants – the state and its secretary of state – are allowed to open qualifications and hold election for the seat of the Louisiana Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, 2nd District, Division A before a reapportionment and redistricting can be held, the plaintiffs will suffer because appellate court judges are elected for a 10-year term and the election will not reflect the population makeup of the parishes in the 5th circuit.
The plaintiffs seek damages for breach of the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, and the constitution of Louisiana.
They want the 5th circuit reapportioned redistricted to comply with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and an injunction and restraining order.
They are represented by Daniel Becnel Jr. of Reserve, La.