West Monroe has never elected a Black person to its board; Justice Department steps in

    BRIEF

    American civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King and his wife Coretta Scott King lead a black voting rights march from Selma, Alabama, to the state capital in Montgomery. (William Lovelace/Express/Getty Images)

    The U.S. Department of Justice and the City of West Monroe have settled a voting rights lawsuit after federal officials realized that no Black candidate has ever been elected to the city’s Board of Aldermen despite 30% of the electorate being Black. The city has agreed to change its at-large method of electing its Board of Aldermen, according to a DOJ press release.

    The proposed consent decree, which the DOJ announced Thursday, is to ensure that West Monroe remains compliant with the federal Voting Rights Act. The DOJ warned the city that its method of electing at-large aldermen left Black citizens in West Monroe with less opportunity than White citizens to participate in the political process and to elect candidates of their choice. 

    Despite Black residents comprising nearly 30% of the electorate, no Black candidate has ever been elected to the West Monroe Board of Aldermen. The complaint does not allege that the current method of election was adopted or maintained with discriminatory intent. 

    The Justice Department notified the city of its intent to file a federal lawsuit on the matter on March 4, prompting the city to open settlement talks. Under the consent decree, which is subject to approval by Louisiana’s U.S. Western District Court — West Monroe will discontinue its current use of at-large elections for the five members of its Board of Aldermen. For the next municipal election, scheduled March 26, 2022, three members of the board will be elected from single-member districts and two members will be elected at-large. The agreement also requires that West Monroe publicize the new method of election.

    “The Voting Rights Act remains a vital tool to ensure that underrepresented citizens have a fair chance to choose their representatives,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Pamela Karlan for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “We appreciate that the City of West Monroe has worked diligently and cooperatively with the department to adopt a solution that provides all the City’s citizens with an equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect aldermen of their choice.”

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    Wesley Muller
    Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the following 22 years since then, he has worked as a journalist for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. Much of his work has involved reporting on First Amendment issues and watchdog coverage of municipal and state government. He has received several honors and recognitions, including McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association, among others. Muller is a New Orleans native, a Jesuit High School alumnus, a University of New Orleans alumnus, a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper, and an adjunct English teacher at Baton Rouge Community College. He lives in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, with his teenage son and his wife, who is also a journalist.