A historic change: Journalists’ work and broad support prompts Louisiana voters to end Jim Crow law
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The law was born in the Jim Crow era. Thanks to strong journalism and bipartisan support, Louisiana voters killed it Tuesday night, 120 years later.
Nearly two-thirds of the state's voters chose to eliminate a provision that allowed non-unanimous jury convictions,
The move was one of several momentous ballot initiatives approved across the nation Tuesday, including a decision in Florida to allow the vote for up to 1.4 million Floridians who had done their time for a felony conviction.
In Louisiana, The Advocate worked for nearly a year on a five-part project that showed how jury convictions — even if one or two jurors didn't agree — distorted justice in the state. Journalists created a database in 10 state parishes and found that of 994 convictions, 40 percent came from these “split” jury votes.
Journalists Jeff Adelson, Gordon Russell and John Simerman found African American defendants were 30 percent more likely to be convicted by non-unanimous juries than white defendants. Blacks were underrepresented on juries and black jurors found themselves 2.5 times more likely to be on the losing side of a conviction vote, said Russell, the newspaper’s managing editor for investigations.
It’s not as if the black jurors wouldn’t convict a defendant, Russell noted, but in some cases, those jurors were less likely to do so on a charge that would, for example, sentence a 17-year-old to life in prison.
Russell told me that the remarkable move to restore unanimous-only verdicts began with black lawmakers and the ACLU and spread to the Catholic church, the Louisiana Family Forum and the Koch Brothers. “This went from mostly a liberal issue to being a bipartisan coalition,” he said, including well-organized canvassing and campaigns with funding from the Koches and foundations by Mark Zuckerberg and George Soros.
The measure gathered two-thirds majorities in both legislative houses to get on the ballot, and won in 61 of the state’s 64 parishes. Even the state’s district attorneys moved from opposition to a “neutral” stance on the issue, Russell said.
The decision, which goes into effect Jan. 1, means only one other state, Oregon, allows for non-unanimous jury conviction. (Oregon’s 1934 decision was fueled by anti-Semitism after a Jewish defendant "only" was convicted of manslaughter, despite 11 jurors arguing for murder.)
On Tuesday night, as Louisiana voters approved the measure, a modest celebration took place in New Orleans. A weary Russell skipped it.
“I decided,” he said, “to go home and go to bed.”
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‘GROSS’: That’s the political editor of the conservative TownHall.com site on Trump’s takedown of defeated Republicans the president deemed insufficiently loyal. “I like & respect every defeated House member he gracelessly and gratuitously singled out for derision,” Guy Benson tweeted.
WILL OTHER REPUBLICANS SPEAK OUT?: That's Jill Abramson's question as racism gets more overt and anti-Semitic symbols crop up in GOP ads. "Mitt Romney, coming to the Senate from Utah, forcefully denounced Trump in 2016. Could he emerge as a voice of conscience?" the former New York Times editor asked in The Guardian. Romney on Wednesday saluted Attorney General Jeff Sessions after he was pushed out by Trump. Romney also warned the Justice Department not to hinder in any way the special investigation of Trump by Robert Mueller.
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COUNTERINTUITIVE?: "The Republicans’ midterm defeat has made the president more desperate to undermine the rule of law," The Atlantic's Adam Serwer writes. Trump's defeat, Serwer argues, will make him more dangerous in the drive toward his one ideological commitment: "His racially exclusive vision of American citizenship." Reference point: The count of documented Trump falsehoods in office (as of Nov. 1): 6,420.
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RELEASE OUR STAFFERS: Tanzanian officials have detained two staffers from the press freedom organization the Committee to Protect Journalists. Angela Quintal, the group's Africa program coordinator, and Muthoki Mumo, CPJ's sub-Saharan Africa representative, were detained in their hotel on Wednesday night, executive director Joel Simon said. "We call on the authorities to immediately release them and return their passports," Simon said.
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