In a case that has sparked curiosity in Louisiana political circles, a federal judge ruled Wednesday that Louisiana Supreme Court justice can run for reelection against the wishes of the NAACP and, strangely, Attorney General Jeff Landry. (Photo credit: Wes Muller/Louisiana Illuminator)
In a case that has sparked curiosity within political circles, a federal judge ruled Wednesday that Louisiana Supreme Court Justice John Weimer can run for reelection against the wishes of the NAACP and, strangely, Attorney General Jeff Landry.
U.S. District Court Judge John deGravelles, for the Middle District of Louisiana, lifted a stay that had blocked the upcoming election for the state Supreme Court’s 6th District. The decision allows Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice John Weimer, the only justice up for reelection this fall, to enter the Nov. 8 race by the July 20-22 qualifying period.
Wednesday’s order was the latest twist in a case that created odd bedfellows — the NAACP and Landry — who are on opposite sides of the three-year-old lawsuit but formed a brief alliance last week when they both opposed Weimer’s late-hour intervention as a third party to the case.
The case of NAACP v. Louisiana began in 2019 when the organization filed a Voting Rights Act lawsuit against the state arguing that Black voters are underrepresented on the state Supreme Court and should have at least one additional majority-minority district. Louisiana’s population is roughly one-third Black, but six of the seven districts are conservative white strongholds.
The majority-Black 7th district in New Orleans, held by Justice Piper Griffin, was created in 2000 from a federal consent decree signed in 1992 and has been the sole avenue of chance for Black candidates to sit on the state’s highest bench. In its 2019 filing, the NAACP argues that the 5th District in Baton Rouge, currently held by Justice Jefferson Hughes III, should be redrawn into a second majority-minority seat.
The districts have been malapportioned for years due to population shifts and the state legislature’s failure to redraw them over the last 25 years. In a separate case, Landry recently asked the federal courts to dissolve the federal consent decree that gave Louisiana its first Black justice, and he likewise opposes the NAACP’s efforts to create a second majority-minority district.
That’s why his action siding with the NAACP in the latest motion came as a surprise to many in legal and political circles.
In May, the NAACP and Landry, on behalf of the state, had mutually asked the judge for a consent stay order of the Nov. 8 election as both sides entered settlement talks.
However, just a few weeks before the qualifying deadline, Weimer and three sheriffs within the 6th District filed motions to intervene and lift the consent stay order to allow the November election to take place. It was Landry, not the NAACP, that mounted vigorous opposition to this.
Noting the peculiarity of the arrangement, the judge wrote that the NAACP verbally opposed the intervention but filed “only a short response” to Weimer’s motion: “Rather, the main opposition to Intervenors’ requests has come from the State of Louisiana, as represented by Attorney General Jeff Landry and his office.”
In his 18-page filing against Weimer, Landry cited procedural matters, questions of jurisdiction and different interpretations of court precedent to try to counter Weimer’s arguments. He also argued that the stay should not be lifted because a November election with malapportioned districts would be unfair to voters.
“It is an interesting question,” state Sen. Sharon Hewitt said, offering no theories.
The attorney general’s office did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Some have questioned if Landry, who is expected to run for governor next year, might have motives that lie beyond matters of the litigation.
State Rep. Mandie Landry, a New Orleans attorney who is not related to Jeff Landry, said she heard the attorney general might be opposed to Weimer politically.
“Just sort of a strange bedfellows thing,” Mandie Landry said.
One thing certain is that Jeff Landry’s move has pushed Weimer to recuse himself on cases that the attorney general has before the Louisiana Supreme Court.
This was apparent with the court’s July 6 ruling in June Medical Services v. Landry, which declined to overturn a lower court’s order blocking the state’s trigger law ban on abortion.
“One of the named defendants in this matter, the Attorney General, has opposed the position for which I advocate in the federal litigation,” Weimer wrote. “Consequently, I am recused to avoid any appearance of impropriety in this matter due to these unusual circumstances…”
Despite Weimer’s intervention in the lawsuit, NAACP Legal Defense Fund attorney Jared Evans said settlement negotiations over the state Supreme Court districts remain ongoing.
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