Louisiana’s highest court is located in New Orleans, not far from where Drew Brees does his job alongside the Saints. It’s our court of last resort, meaning the folks who wear the robes wear them very well. Like No. 9 does.
It’s the Louisiana Supreme Court and it’s composed of seven justices. The Court has been so important to the state that it was actually included in our first constitution, in 1812.
The workload is fascinating. Seriously. I’d rather watch the Saints or fish in Cocodrie than read recent Louisiana caselaw from that level, but it truly is interesting. No matter what you do or don’t do while you’re a resident of this state, the Supreme Court will eventually hear an issue capable of pulling you into its orbit.
During the most recent round of opinions handed down in June, the Court reviewed the case of a man with five vehicular homicide convictions and heard arguments on another involving pharmacy sales and Wal-Mart stores. The rest of the cases pertained to minor children, an oil company, a suspended attorney, the chain of custody for evidence and various other issues.
Look, the Louisiana Supreme Court is a big deal. Those gavels are heavy, and they don’t come cheap. You’re not allowed to just go buy a gavel from your local five-and-dime. You have to win it, which brings us to the point of this week’s use of newsprint.
The Court has an election this fall. The seat does not cover the entire state, but rather the greater region in and around Jefferson Parish. If you do not live in the district, you cannot vote in the election.
But if you care about the judicial system, if decisions from the highest court in the state matter to you, there are other ways of engaging, from tracking the news about the race and supporting someone on social media to cutting a check for a campaign in which you can trust.
Even if you’re not interested in the election battle that’s being waged, a lot of other folks are, like the Louisiana chapter of Americans for Prosperity. A major player at the Capitol, the conservative-leaning group’s AFP Action has endorsed District Judge Scott Schlegel of Metairie — and it’s a pretty big deal, if you know how to read the political tea leaves.
“It’ll be a major engagement for our chapter,” said AFP state director John Kay, adding the “heavy six-figure” budget will outstrip what the organization spent against former U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu in 2014.
The move begins to split the field of white Republican men, with AFP’s boosters pulling in behind Schlegel and a healthy share of the business lobby aligning with Appellate Judge Will Crain of Madisonville. Fellow Appellate Judge Hans Liljeberg of Metairie and Richard Ducote of Covington are running as well.
(The District 1 seat became vacant when Greg Guidry received a federal judgeship. It includes portions of Orleans, Jefferson, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, St. Helena and Washington parishes.)
Kay called it an “important race for the future of the state and the court.”
AFP, like many other various special interest groups in Baton Rouge, have gravitated toward criminal justice reforms in recent years, so it’s natural that the Supreme Court race would bring the same influencers to the table. But there may be a heftier issue at play for hardcore politicos.
The Louisiana Constitution currently grants the Court the authority to redraw lines if the Legislature fails to do so, or if its plan gets kicked back by the federal government. So just as redistricting is fueling interest in the governor’s race, for control of the almighty veto pen, it’s also forcing eyes to focus on the Supreme Court election.
Schlegel, to be certain, has the monetary edge, with $96,000 in the bank and independent spending guaranteed by AFP’s political arm. Ducote has the most ground to make up, meanwhile, with just $130 in his campaign kitty.
Crain had $49,000 in the bank as of the last reporting period, but he’s expected to get some help from the business lobby. As for Liljeberg, he’s sitting on $24,000, but his campaign may be the most amenable to Democratic support.
That’s usually the side of the fence that attorney John Carmouche and others from the trial bar traditionally fall on, with related PACS Louisiana Water Coalition and Citizens for Clean Water and Land holding $96,000 and $99,000 respectively in campaign accounts.
The trial bar should be expected to take an interest in the race as well, with the open seat being branded as some as the swing vote on matters related to coastal oil and gas litigation.
The bigger question is whether you will take an interest in this race for the Louisiana Supreme Court. I have, and I hope you will as well.