Baton Rouge Council Approves Status Quo Redistricting Proposal Despite Growing Minority Population

The East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council on Wednesday approved a redistricting proposal that is expected to preserve the council’s racial and partisan makeup despite recent census data showing the parish’s changing demographics warranted a new configuration.

The 12-member Council is made up of seven majority white districts currently represented by Republicans and five majority black districts currently represented by Democrats. The Council voted 7-5 on racial and partisan lines to approve the status quo proposal.

The vote to keep the status quo is likely to trigger legal action from local civil rights groups, including the Baton Rouge chapter of the NAACP, which said the new district map was expected to increase the representation of minorities to better reflect the diversity of the community.

“In our opinion, in the NAACP, black people should by no means be in the majority in this parish but have minority representation,” said Eugene Collins, president of the Baton Rouge chapter of the NAACP. “We do all that [Council] been doing since the late 50s. I urge you to be different…and if not, I can assure you this town is considering litigation.

The 2020 census found that 45.2% of the parish’s 456,781 citizens identified as black and 42.9% identified as white only. This distribution shrinks to less than one percentage point when the parish’s population is restricted to residents of voting age.

The Democratic minority on the council supported a proposal that would have created an additional black-majority district and likely left the panel evenly balanced with six Democrats and six Republicans.

But after more than two and a half hours of public commentary and debate, many speakers voiced support for the status quo. proposal this was ultimately approved because the alternative would have split their wards between multiple Metro Council districts.

District 11 council member Laurie Adams, who represented many residents who spoke out in favor of the status quo proposal, said splitting those neighborhoods would break up communities with common interests and make it harder for them to to defend oneself.

“These are neighborhoods and areas that are deeply committed to making our parish as strong as possible,” Adams said.

But advocates for increased minority representation on the panel said black residents had been denied the same consideration for generations and predominantly black neighborhoods lost out when the government invested in parts of the city. city-parish that had a larger white population.

District 6 council member Cleve Dunn said the underrepresentation of black voters is the modern manifestation of the Jim Crow policies and systemic racism of the past.

“The data is clear that African Americans have a majority in the parish,” Dunn said. “It’s time to decide where you are on equal representation, on equality and on your Christian values… And where you are today shows where you would have been on these other issues: racism, slavery and Jim Crow.”

Several council members asked Mike Hefner, the demographer hired by the parish town for the redistricting process, whether the status quo proposal would violate federal voting rights law, which prohibits the dilution of the political power of minority racial groups.

Hefner declined to provide a direct answer, saying there was no direct formula for calculating the amount of minority population growth that warranted the creation of a new majority-minority district. But he added that maps that included drawn districts where race was the only consideration could also lead to legal issues.

East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome said she was disappointed with the vote.

“My vision for Baton Rouge has always been for our city to be a community of peace, prosperity and progress,” Broome said in a statement. “The only way to do this is to commit to equity and social justice within our parish, starting with the most basic right of equal representation.”

She said her administration will continue to fight for the rights of residents of East Baton Rouge Parish.

Civil rights groups have previously challenged in court proposals to redistrict Congress, state legislation and parochial school boards for their failure to increase minority representation. In June, the United States Supreme Court intervened in the lawsuit challenging the map of the congressional district drawn by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature. The High Court tied the outcome of that case to its review of a similar congressional redistricting case out of Alabama.

Their decision in the case could radically change the role played in drawing electoral districts at all levels of government.