OVERRULED: Judge Rules EBR School Board Map “Null and Void”

BATON ROUGE, La. – On Friday, a Parish District Court judge ruled that the redistricting map passed by the EBR school board back in April violated Louisiana law and will not be implemented ahead of the November school board elections.

In his 7-page ruling, District Judge Tarvald Anthony Smith of Division A ruled the the EBR Parish School Board violated Louisiana Revised Statue 17:71.3 which requires the use of whole precincts during the redistricting and reapportionment process in Louisiana. Smith found that the map adopted by the school board back on April 7 – School Board Public Plan 22, or SB 22, proposed by school board member Mark Bellue – relied heavily on “split precincts” and its insistence that a 9 single member district plan was not possible without using such tactics.

“The faces and voices of so many people pleading for fair redistricting maps keeps flashing in front of me,” said Evelyn-Ware Jackson, an EBR School Board member who has represented District 5 since 2010. “Their voices didn’t matter in plan 22. Judge Smith’s ruling restores fairness and respect for the law [to the redistricting process] – and what better coincidence than on Juneteenth weekend?”

Smith further came down harshly on the school board’s argument that they had no choice but to pass a 9 single member district, pointing to numerous maps that had been discussed prior to the school board vote that increased the size of the board’s membership, furthering undermining the school board’s argument that they had to use split districts to make the numbers work.

“From testimony in court, it was established that there were numerous maps the school board could have nominated,” Smith said in his ruling. “[The School Board considered maps] containing anywhere from 9 single member districts to as high as the limit allowed by law of 15 single member districts.”

Smith pointed out that simply by acknowledging that the Board could increase its size to accommodate reapportionment meant that the Board willingly violated state law to pass SB 22. Instead of forcing a 9 single member district to work by splitting precincts, they knew they could expand the board to avoid doing so.

The ruling was met with excitement by those who had originally opposed SB 22 during the April vote, including community advocates like Tania Nyman, who was also one of four named plaintiffs in the case. Nyman recognized that while this ruling won’t likely be the last word on the matter of school board redistricting and reapportionment, it did give school board members a chance to right what many argue was a blatant wrong in the spring.

“I realize this is not the end of the process, but I am heartened by Judge Smith’s decision and the work of our attorney, Brian Blackwell, who represented us,” said Nyman. “In order to have a functional democracy, we must have fair, legal maps. Our school board now has an opportunity to adopt one. I’m so pleased.”

Pending appeal, Judge Smith ruled that candidates for the upcoming fall elections for school board will run under the jurisdictional lines drawn previously by board members Dawn Chanet Collins (District 4) and Ware-Jackson, or the Ware/Collins 1-11 plan. The Ware-Collins plan was one of the two proposed maps voted on back on April 7 and would expand the school board to 11 single member districts. Moreover, Smith cited the nomination and vote on Ware/Collins 1-11 as further proof that the board had ample opportunity to avoid violating state law and chose to do so anyways.

Despite the victory for advocates who argued the School Board was trying to intentionally undermine the political power of the Black population in the school district with the adoption of SB 22 in April, Judge Smith did, however, leave the door open for the School Board to re-submit a new map to the court that satisfies both state and federal law by Wednesday, June 22 at 10 AM. If that new map were to be approved by Smith, that map would be used in the fall instead of Ware/Collins 1-11.

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