For more than a decade, a group of white federal appeals court judges in Louisiana ignored petitions from inmates who claimed they were wrongly convicted. But attempts to shed light on the nefarious actions of the Louisiana 5th Circuit Court of Appeal have been largely ignored by state leaders and the public. Pro Publica’s Anat Rubin tells the gripping story of blatant abuses of power by state judges and their ability to evade accountability. 

But something didn’t feel right. How could they return the ruling so quickly? Why was it so vague? The answer to those questions would come years later, in the suicide note of a high-level court employee who disclosed that the judges of the 5th Circuit had decided, in secret, to ignore the petitions of prisoners who could not afford an attorney. It was a shocking revelation. In a state where police and prosecutorial misconduct frequently make national headlines and a stream of exonerations has revealed a criminal justice system still functioning in the shadow of slavery and Jim Crow, a group of white judges had decided that the claims of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of inmates — most of them Black — were not worth taking the time to read.

Be like Mike
The ascendance of Gov.-elect Jeff Landry means Louisiana will see an ideological shift on many policies. But the incoming governor would be wise not to emulate the last Republican to occupy the Governor’s Mansion, former-Gov. Bobby Jindal, whose embrace of far-right policies led to a state budget disaster. Instead, as the Times-Picayune |Baton Rouge Advocate’s Stephanie Grace explains, Landry should examine former- GOP Gov. Mike Foster’s responsible and pragmatic approach to governing.

And over time — and unlike Jindal, his onetime protégé — Foster moved to more fairly distribute the tax burden and fund top public-sector priorities, even if that approach was not one he telegraphed as a candidate. Over his eight years in office, Foster invested in education, both at the K-12 and higher ed level, including community and technical colleges. He championed the Stelly Plan that eliminated state sales taxes on necessities that eat a larger proportion of lower-income residents’ budgets, coupled with modest — and since-dismantled — income tax increases for better-off residents. 

Louisiana Supreme Court should have two Black justices
Recent coverage of racially-gerrymandered political boundaries in Louisiana have focused on the state’s congressional map. But New Orleans civil rights activists were successful last month in blocking a lawsuit to remove and redraw the only Black-majority voting district on the state’s Supreme Court. The Times-Picayune |Baton Rouge Advocate’s Will Sutton explains the historic efforts that were needed to secure this district and the work that remains to make Louisian’s highest court more reflective of the population it serves. 

The truth is, with a Black population of about 33%, Louisiana should have TWO Black Supreme Court justices. (Former Justice Bernette) Johnson said some Black people don’t seem to understand how important representation is at all levels of government, including the judiciary. “They don’t see the regression,” she said. That includes having African-American representation on the state Supreme Court. 

Americans pay more to be poorer and sicker
The United States spends more on health care, as a percentage of its economy, than any other country in the world and gets middling results. New findings from the Commonwealth Fund’s 2023 Health Care Affordability Survey show how health care costs and medical debt are making Americans poorer – and sicker: 

Large shares of insured working-age adults surveyed said it was very or somewhat difficult to afford their health care: 43 percent of those with employer coverage, 57 percent with marketplace or individual-market plans, 45 percent with Medicaid, and 51 and percent with Medicare. Many insured adults said they or a family member had delayed or skipped needed health care or prescription drugs because they couldn’t afford it in the past 12 months: 29 percent of those with employer coverage, 37 percent covered by marketplace or individual-market plans, 39 percent enrolled in Medicaid, and 42 percent with Medicare.

Number of the Day
$796,428 – Amount of funding Southern University will receive from an Environmental Protection Agency grant to reduce pollution in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. (Source: Times-Picayune |Baton Rouge Advocate)