Lawsuit challenging congressional district’s boundaries is dropped

Racial bias alleged in federal suit

A demand for the redrawing of Louisiana’s allegedly gerrymandered congressional 2nd District was filed in federal court in late November on behalf of three Baton Rouge residents.

Now, poof! That demand is gone.

Christopher L. Whittington, former chairman of the Louisiana Democratic Party and the attorney who wrote the suit, said: “The clients and others interested in the litigation re-examined the case and made a decision not to pursue the matter at this time.”

The suit was dismissed at Whittington’s request before attorneys for the state could respond to the complaint in the court of U.S. District Judge Shelly D. Dick.

Whittington’s clients were Baton Rouge retirees Maytee Buckley, Leslie Parms and Parms’ wife, Yvonne Parms.

“The legal merit of the suit has never been questioned by the clients,” Whittington said. Other details related to that decision are “subject to the attorney-client privilege, for which I cannot comment.”

In early December, Whittington said the 2nd District, which stretches from east of New Orleans and along the Mississippi River to north Baton Rouge and Baker, was engineered by the Legislature in 2011 to ensure the state would have a black member of Congress.

“The Louisiana Legislature cherry-picked African-American neighborhoods in New Orleans and Baton Rouge and packed them into one district,” Whittington wrote in the suit. “The result is a contorted congressional district based primarily — if not entirely — on race.”

U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, won the election in that district and remains the only black member of Louisiana’s congressional delegation.

The suit asked Dick to declare the district racially gerrymandered and to block next year’s election until its boundaries were redrawn.

Dick also was asked to select two other judges to serve with her on a court panel that would draw the new boundaries.

Baton Rouge attorney Alfreda Tillman Bester, general counsel for the Louisiana Conference of the NAACP, said three weeks ago that the civil rights organization would monitor the suit closely.

She said NAACP officials wanted to ensure voting rights won by African Americans in the 1960s would not be diminished by the litigation.

Bester also alleged all of Louisiana’s congressional districts were gerrymandered along racial lines in 2011.

Otherwise, she said, with a voting-age population that is one-third minority, white people would not hold five of the state’s six seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Bester said she was surprised the suit over the 2nd District boundaries had been dropped by the plaintiffs.

She added any court decision to redraw that district’s boundaries would spark challenges to the other five congressional districts’ boundaries.

“The Legislature had a lot of input from congressional incumbents when those lines were drawn (in 2011),” Bester noted. “It’s very clear the people who drew those lines were protecting those districts.”

She added: “It would be nice if all our members of Congress would just say: ‘We’re going to draw compact districts.’ ”