November 8, 2018

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.”

Quick hits

THE QUESTION: After Democrats drew 7 million more votes nationwide than Republicans in the midterm election, CNN's Jim Acosta asked President Trump why he used the nativist and inaccurate term "invaders" before the election to describe the few thousand Central Americans fleeing poverty and violence in their countries. Trump never answered — and wanted to cut Acosta off. The terminology was important, since the accused mass killer at Pittsburgh synagogue used the same formulation. Was the president irresponsible in saying something a) false and b) incendiary for unbalanced violence-prone Americans? Of course, Trump never answered, and took away Acosta's White House pass. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tried to slander Acosta by saying he "laid hands" on a female intern who tried the microphone away him. A video disproved Sanders claim. She has not apologized. CNN called the move against Acosta "a threat to our democracy," adding: "The country deserves better."

WHO'S A RACIST?: In defending his self-defined "nationalistic" label, Trump want on a racist jag against reporter Yamiche Alcindor for respectfully asking a question about it. Later Wednesday, the ADL said the White House had been hosting European white nationalists this week. Why? 

‘GROSS’: That’s the political editor of the conservative 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.

SPEAKING OF INVESTIGATING TRUMP: The Democratic House, given its sudden mandate by voters across America to provide a check on President Trump, says it will prioritize its probes on allegations of money laundering, Russian interference and Trump family finances.

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.

HOUR BY HOUR: How three cable news channels covered Election Night

LESSONS LEARNED: Poynter's Kristen Hare has a few ideas from 2018 elections worth borrowing in 2020 (including this "Wheel of Fortune"-style quiz from WGBH).

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.


Want to get this briefing in your inbox every weekday morning? Sign up here.

Got a tip or a link? Please email me at or reach me @dabeard.

Have a good Thursday. See you Friday.

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.

More News

Back to News