Louisiana's Supreme Court consisted of seven justices, with five elected from single member districts and two elected from one multi-member district which combined a majority-African American Parish with three other Parishes where white voters made up more than 3/4 of their populations. In the late 1980s, a group of African American voters in the multi-member district filed a federal lawsuit alleging that the state's use of the multi-member judicial district impermissibly diluted minority voting strength in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. In accordance with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit's instructions on remand, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana dismissed the plaintiffs' complaint, citing the Fifth Circuit's ruling in a separate case that Section 2 of the VRA only protected minority voters' ability to elect "representatives" of their choice, and judges were not "representatives."
In 1991, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the District Court and Fifth Circuit's rulings, definitively holding that Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act does apply to judicial elections. The Court stated that unlike the constitutional "one person, one vote" principle previously held inapplicable to judicial election districts, Section 2 was intended to coexist with and expand upon the Fifteenth Amendment, which has been repeatedly held to apply to judicial elections. The Court then explained that there is no indication that Congress intended the 1982 Amendments to exclude judicial elections from its coverage and, consequently, the term "representatives" as used in the Act refers to all winners of popular elections, including judges when they are elected.
Significance: Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, as amended in 1982, applies to judicial elections and judicial election districts.
U.S. Supreme Court - 501 U.S. 380 (1991)
- Opinion - 6/20/91