ABBEVILLE, La. (KLFY) — The Abbeville City Council is facing a lawsuit over the boundaries of its four council districts.
The Southern Poverty Law Center filed suit today on behalf of the Vermilion Parish NAACP to block the current district map, claiming that it denies equal representation to voters in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
“This country was built on free labor, the blood, the sweat, and the tears of our ancestors, who suffered and died for us because they had a vision of better days for their future generations,” said Vermillion Parish NAACP President Linda Cockrell.
At issue is the council’s approving the use of the same districts as before the 2020 census. Louisiana law requires municipalities to examine their district apportionment within one year after the release of the census to determine whether a new apportionment plan is needed.
The Fourteenth Amendment requires legislative districts, regardless of location, to provide equal representation and voting power for all citizens.
The suit, filed in United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, cites census numbers that show Abbeville’s population as 11,186. Divided equally, the population for each of Abbeville’s four single-member districts would be 2,797.
But the population in District B as currently drawn is 3,086 and 2,544 in District C, a deviation of 19%. According to the lawsuit, A 10% deviation is a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s One-Person, One-Vote requirement.
Ahmed Soussi, a staff attorney with SPLC, said the city council decided not to reapportion the district map allowing District B to be overpopulated, which would dilute the votes in that area.
“Abbeville is double what the law considers unlawful. They’re at a 19 percent deviation. Anything over 10%, the court says there’s a per se violation,” said Soussi. “Abbeville lost people in the census, and that loss made the current map, the 2010 map that they enacted again, was malapportioned.”
The council unanimously passed an ordinance on Dec. 20, 2022 declaring that the 2020 Census results did not produce a “substantial variation” in Abbeville’s population, and that the council would reuse its 2010 electoral districts.
Abbeville Mayor Roslyn White said she stands by the district map as drawn.
“As a new administration, we are focused on creating a more equitable and inclusive city and building a network of resources to tackle the many challenges facing our community,” White said. “We made our decision to keep the current districts based on data and in good faith that we had the support of the community that has entrusted us to lead the city. I believe that the totality of the facts will support our decision. This issue is now in the hands of the court.”
The Vermilion Parish NAACP drew up its own suggested map that divides the city into four districts with a deviation of less that 1%, and submitted it to the council on Sept. 23 when, the suit claims, the council declined to change is district map.
“I actually presented to the city council last year, and I explained to them that if you decided to keep the map as is, you are, per se, committing a violation under the Fourteenth Amendment,” said Soussi.
The suit is asking the court to declare that the district map violates the Fourteenth Amendment, prevent the city from holding any future election based on the current map and establish a schedule for the city to create a new district map.
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