For those hollering about Louisiana’s reapportionment over the past several months, the shoe now is on the other foot in De Soto Parish.
This week, aggrieved residents notified the parish’s Police Jury that unless it reconsidered its reapportionment within two weeks they would file an injunction to prevent its reapportionment, decided at its Apr. 18 meeting, from going forward. They alleged the jurors drew districts that substantially didn’t have equal populations, violating a 10 percent deviation standard (the highest and lowest being over 17 percent apart) which intentionally awarded more representation to the parish’s largest municipality at the expense of the parish’s northern part.
As a result, the Jury will address the topic at its meeting next week. It very well should, for the citizens have an excellent case, starting with the obvious 10+ percent spread. That isn’t an absolute standard, but to go beyond that limit requires some compelling reasons that don’t appear to apply.
Although cartographer Michael Hefner, who drew the original boundaries as he has done for other area governments, defended the plan by alleging to reduce the number of majority/minority districts would involve “retrogression,” or reducing the opportunity for minority voters to elect candidates of their choice, that involves an overly-simplistic understanding of the jurisprudence involved. As another cartographer involved in reapportionment for other area governments, Gary Joiner, noted in the documentation behind the letter, the overly wide population variances appear to place race foremost among criteria, disavowed under current jurisprudence although not explicitly defined.
Another Louisiana reapportionment case will play a role within the next several months in hashing out more explicit standards in this regard: just how prominent a factor may race be balanced to several other criteria. That came as a result of a suit against its congressional reapportionment, which has been set aside for the time being until the U.S. Supreme Court takes up a related Alabama case, where plaintiffs argued the drawn districts discriminated against minorities by drawing only one of six districts as M/M in a state where black population (black alone plus any other combination with black) approached one-third of the population.
Population deviation isn’t an issue in that case, as congressional reapportionment has a far stricter standard close to zero, but the plaintiffs argued for bizarrely drawn districts dividing many urban and regional areas to achieve two M/M districts (as a cover for electing more Democrats to Congress). Here, the same interests (one, Democrat state Rep. Kenny Cox publicly cautioned against any upcoming De Soto change) supported the challenged De Soto districts, which not only violate the population standards but also has bizarre and meandering district shapes, splitting up little Mansfield (population below 5,000) into no fewer than five.
It all comes down to two factors: race and incumbency. The 2010 census had black-identifying residents at about 39 percent but five M/M districts, which is 45 percent of seats. That proportion dropped to 36 percent for 2020, or four seats proportionally, yet the enacted plan provided for the same five M/M districts. The four black Democrats (one has resigned since to become mayor of Mansfield and one was absent for this vote) wanted not only to keep their seats but also as high black presence on the jury as possible, and the other six jurors shared that desire to keep districts not too different from what they had (the parish’s population overall didn’t change much, although it grew in the northern Shreveport exurbs and lost elsewhere, particularly around Mansfield) to help keep themselves in office. Thus, nobody made a fuss about a facially problematic plan.
And it’s not like they didn’t know: the parish’s School Board, with the same number of districts, sidestepped the problem in its reapportionment that produced four M/M districts without dispute. Clearly jurors need to redo their plan along the School Board lines or else will face a needless, protracted battle they almost certainly will lose. At least they can avoid a wound of the self-inflicted kind, unlike Louisiana taxpayers who had no choice in fending off a needless, wasteful, and divisive suit by politicized special interests.