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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:After the 2000 Census, the voting district boundaries of Union Parish, La., were redrawn. In 12 of 14 plans offered, two of the nine existing districts for the local police jury were majority-black, just as they had been under the old plan. The other two plans offered three majority-black districts. Ultimately, one of the 12 plans was picked, and the majority-black incumbents in the majority-black districts remained the same. A group of African-American registered voters in Union Parish sued to block the plan. The plaintiffs argued the plan violated Voting Rights Act �2 by creating only two majority-black districts, thereby diluting their voting rights. The district court ruled for the parish, finding that the plaintiffs could not meet their threshold by showing the “geographical compactness” of the voting-age black population, as required by Thornburg v. Gingles, 478 U.S. 30 (1986). Alternatively, the court found that the case would fail under the totality of the circumstances tested, also outlined by Gingles. HOLDING:Affirmed. To establish a � 2 violation, members of the protected class must demonstrate that, based on the totality of circumstances, they “have less opportunity than other members of the electorate to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice.” First, plaintiffs must satisfy three preconditions: 1. that the minority group is sufficiently large and geographically compact to constitute a majority in a single-member district; 2. it is politically cohesive; and 3. the white majority votes sufficiently as a bloc to enable it — in the absence of special circumstances — usually to defeat the minority’s preferred candidates. If the preconditions are met, plaintiffs must then prove that based on the totality of the circumstances, they have less opportunity than other members of the electorate to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice. The court confirms that it is the first precondition that is disputed here. Though the district court found that the size of the black population in the parish would justify a third district, it also found that the voting-age population of the third district would not be geographically compact. The court first notes that to the extent the plaintiffs suggest that the shape of a district is irrelevant, they are incorrect. While a compactness determination should not hinge on the shape of a district, the shape of a district certainly cannot be disregarded in a compactness inquiry. As the geographical shape of any proposed district necessarily directly relates to the geographical compactness and population dispersal of the minority community in question, it is clear that shape is a significant factor that courts “can and must” consider under Gingles. The district court in this gave appropriate weight to the shape of the district. “To be sure, the district court did find the shape relevant, but only insofar as it was indicative of the non-compactness of the minority population in those proposed districts. Moreover, the district court grounded its conclusion on a number of additional factors, including that both proposed additional majority-black districts separated distinct communities and disrupted relationships between incumbents and constituents, which had existed over the years and continued to exist under the Defendants’ new plan.” The court points out that the shape of the bypassed third district was irregularly drawn and distorted so as to exclude non-whites, while simultaneously adding “excess” African-Americans from other communities. The court also notes that regardless of the shape of the district, the redrawn boundary would have significantly disturbed existing relationships between incumbents and constituents. On the merits of the case, then, the court affirms. The court then turns to a separate question raised by the plaintiffs: whether the district court judge should have recused himself because the judge’s wife was an assistant district attorney in the D.A.’s office that was representing the defendants in this case. Reduced to its essence, the plaintiffs contend that when an immediate family member is an at-will employee in the office representing a party, the impartiality of the judge is called into question. The court finds no abuse of discretion in the judge’s failure to recuse himself. Unlike in a law firm context, the family member in this case has no direct financial interest in the outcome of the case. Nor does the judge himself have a direct financial interest in the case’s outcome. The plaintiffs argue that even if there’s no direct financial interest, the job security of the judge’s spouse may be indirectly impacted. The court finds this argument is built “by layering several speculative premises on top of one another to reach a speculative conclusion.” Such does not establish the need for the judge to recuse himself. OPINION:E. Grady Jolly, J.; Jolly, Davis and Jones, JJ.

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