St. James redistricting lawsuit dismissed

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 24, 2011



LAPLACE – A federal judge on Monday dismissed a voting rights case between the St. James Parish government and seven parish residents that aimed to block passage of the parish’s redistricting plan.

The court dismissed the case “with prejudice” after necessary paperwork was not filed on behalf of the plaintiffs for the second time.

Legal council for the plaintiffs will have the option to appeal the decision.

The parish’s redistricting plan gained clearance from the U.S. Justice Department in August, but the group of residents filed suit challenging the plans constitutionality.

According to online court documents, the suit attempted to have the plan declared unconstitutional and asked the court to supervise creation of a new plan. The suit alleged that the current redistricting plan dilutes black voting strength in the majority black parish. The group filed a lawsuit in May against an earlier plan, but that litigation stalled in court because of a missed deadline. That suit alleged “obvious gerrymandering of districts for partisan or personal political purposes.”

The earlier plan was approved by the St. James Parish Council on May 4 by a vote of 4-3 with all three black council members voting against the plan. St. James Parish President Dale Hymel vetoed that plan two days later, saying he believed the plan would not garner Justice Department support. On May 9, the council voted to override the veto and approve that plan with a 6-1 vote. A month later the council voted to rescind the previous plan in favor of an alternative map that altered the boundaries for four of the parish’s seven districts. This new version, which keeps a strong black majority in Districts 4, 5 and 6 and creates a fourth, District 2, with a roughly 50-50 split between white and black residents, is the target of the new litigation.

“During my five terms as parish president, I have always based my decisions on the needs of the community and respect for the preferences of the residents,” Hymel said in a statement. “I have complete faith in my administration and stand behind the decisions made during the reapportionment phase and thereafter. The decision to dismiss the case validates the process used in determining the new parish districts, based on guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Justice.”