The Elite 8%: Cautioning Against The Constitutionalization of Favoritisim for New Orleans

By Luke A. Dupré


Louisiana’s rich colonial history has impressed its mark upon all societal institutions within the far reaches of the state’s boundary lines. From the story of the Acadian journey from Nova Scotia to the times of early French and Spanish possession, the early history of Louisiana has shaped one institution in particular—the law.[1] One of those early impressions which the state cannot seem to function without is a deference to the City of New Orleans in all aspects of law and governance.[2] The special treatment of New Orleans is a recurring theme which can be found throughout all sources of Louisiana law.[3] The most troubling form of that extraordinary treatment is the constitutional amendment—an instrument which alters the sacrosanct language of the state’s governing document.

On November 8, 2022, voters arrived at the polls to cast their ballots and were confronted with a proposed constitutional amendment which essentially would have imposed a cap on the increase of assessed value of residential property in Orleans Parish.[4] The reason for the proposal was simple: proponents believed that the assessed values in Orleans Parish were rising too fast.[5] Indeed, recent times have brought about surges in property values to many regions of the state.[6] Underlying these two simple assertions about rising property values is a simple polarity: Orleans Parish, which seeks to alter the playing field for itself, and those other sixty-three parishes which feel comfortable working under the legal construction binding upon all others within Louisiana. This Blog Post argues that the constitutional exemptions, exceptions, and privileges given to Orleans Parish should be cautioned against and perhaps cast aside at the next constitutional convention.

I. Background

Louisiana has a legacy of state constitutional revision and change—it had ten constitutions during the state’s two hundred and eleven years of statehood.[7] Prior to the current Louisiana Constitution of 1974, the state had ten constitutions, with the prior version having been ratified in 1921.[8] The Louisiana Constitution of 1921 had become “virtually incomprehensible,” with voters having added 536 amendments in only 52 years.[9] The document became so large that it could no longer function as the governing document of the state.[10] Louisiana’s constitutions of 1921 and 1973 were much lengthier than those of the other 49 states.[11] In 1990 alone, the constitution gained 27 amendments.[12] Louisiana should now be cautious: the Louisiana Constitution of 1974 as amended today is almost the size of the state’s prior governing document, and legislators have begun calling for a new convention.[13]

Louisiana’s constitution cannot be amended via popular ballot initiatives.[14] Instead, the legislature must act to pass a proposed constitutional amendment, which is then put forth before the voting public.[15] Though the wording of amendments is often confusing, voters in Louisiana know enough to vote in their own best interest.[16] Some of the confusing amendments are those that only benefit the Parish of Orleans,[17] even though that parish comprises only 8.1% of the state’s total population.[18]

The special place of New Orleans within Louisiana’s history and culture is well known. That history has led to overt special treatment within all sources of Louisiana law. For example, Louisiana Civil Code article 292 specifies which persons are discharged by law of the duty to become a tutor if selected by the court.[19] Directly after the offices of Governor, Secretary of State, and judicial officials is a lone municipal official: the Mayor of New Orleans.[20] Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure article 3134 provides for proper filing of a procés verbal, with one rule applying in Orleans Parish and another applying in all other parishes of the state.[21] The criminal laws of Louisiana are also not without exceptions for New Orleans. The Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure contains 28 provisions which generally treat Orleans Parish differently than all other parishes.[22] The Louisiana Revised Statutes are absolutely pervaded by the phrase “[t]he provisions of this section shall not apply to the parish of Orleans.”[23] In fact, the Louisiana Revised Statutes contains the phrase “Orleans” 1,474 times.[24] This is more times than the words “Mississippi River” and “judge”—combined—are referenced.[25]

As previously noted, the state constitution is not without reference to the Big Easy. The Louisiana Constitution of 1974 contains the word “Orleans” 44 times.[26] Ten of these instances, however, are included within the names of schools referenced within the document.[27] Eighteen sections of the current state constitution contain exemptions, exceptions, and privileges for the Parish of Orleans.[28] These many passages include an entirely separate court system, special allowances for ad valorem tax assessment, a special taxation mechanism for school boards, and a city civil service board.[29] There is an entire section of the constitution dedicated to “Orleans Parish Courts, Officials.”[30] One passage seeks to grant authority to the City of New Orleans by providing a population quota no other city in the state currently can fulfill:

If property located in a municipality with a population of more than four hundred fifty thousand persons as of the most recent federal decennial census fails to sell for the minimum required bid in the tax sale, the collector may offer the property for sale at a subsequent sale with no minimum required bid.[31]

The legacy of Louisiana’s overt and covert special treatment of New Orleans within the law is thus well established.

II. Comparison to Other States

Louisiana is, of course, not the only state with a constitution granting special mention to its largest city, but its treatment of New Orleans does reflect a special concern which far surpasses the concern of other states for their largest cities. The constitution of the State of Nevada contains not a single mention of Las Vegas.[32] The distribution of population within that state, when understood within the context of this analysis, also allows for comparison and reflection. Unlike the 8.1% population contribution of Orleans Parish to Louisiana’s total census figure, Clark County (the local government system in which Las Vegas generally operates) comprises almost 73.1% of Nevada’s total population.[33] Mississippi’s constitution contains only one provision concerning the City of Jackson—naming it the state capitol.[34] No other cities are indexed.[35] Similarly, the constitution of the State of Maine only makes one reference to a city—Augusta, naming it the state’s capitol.[36] Though only a select few state constitutions are examined here, they serve to reflect the overall principle that special treatment of large cities within state constitutional law is a choice, not a necessity.

III. An Exemplar of Constitutionalizing Local Issues

Louisiana’s penchant of special amendments for Orleans Parish can best be exemplified by an examination of the brief legislative history of House Bill 143 of the 2021 Regular Legislative Session, the instrument preceding the proposed constitutional amendment which voters statewide were confronted with on November 8, 2022.[37] On the date that the bill was scheduled for floor debate and a vote on final passage, the bill’s author, Representative Matthew Willard, gave this explanation of his bill to the legislative body: “Members this is a local bill that passed out of Ways and Means [Committee] unanimously. It has the support of our local assessor and our city council. Deals with property assessments. I’m happy to answer any questions.”[38] After that less than 30 second speech, not a single question was asked nor any mention made that it was a proposed constitutional amendment.[39] This proposed constitutional amendment passed the House seconds later with a vote of 97–3–5.[40] On election day, the majority of voters refused to ratify the amendment in a very narrow result—with almost 1.28 million votes cast, the measure failed by only 6,971 votes.[41]

The brief legislative and electoral history of the above proposed constitutional amendment serves as an exemplar for the constitutionalizing of provisions which attempt to address concerns known only to residents of Orleans Parish. A state constitution is the governing document of the state at large, not a mechanism by which local concerns should be addressed. For this reason, the Louisiana Constitution of 1974 contains a provision providing for a general aversion to state statutory provisions seeking to address certain local concerns.[42] The author’s characterization of the bill proposing the amendment as a “local bill” is telling—perhaps it has become routine for legislators from the Orleans delegation to view statewide constitutional amendments as “local bills.” The swiftness with which the House of Representatives voted without any comment or debate is also of great concern. When proposing alterations to the governing document of the state, legislators should place provisions under strict review.

IV. Louisiana Should Be Hesitant to Grant Greater Constitutional Authority to New Orleans

The ratification of constitutional amendments specific to New Orleans creates an uneven scheme of law because it establishes further inequities among parishes and creates a situation in which only one city’s local issues receive constitutional interpretation. State constitutional law scholars have described the proposal of constitutional amendments that could have been enacted as local bills as a way in which legislators can create greater permanence for their work and prevent “the state high court or future political majorities from meddling” with the laws that they have passed.[43] Indeed, excessive attempts at constitutional legislation regarding New Orleans undermines “the notion of a ‘higher’ law and judicial review itself.”[44] Legislation by constitutional amendment is also a way in which Louisiana legislators have traditionally shirked responsibility for determining controversial local issues by placing them before the public.[45] The process of constitutional legislation for issues of local concern is disfavored because it constitutionalizes local issues which could easily be resolved by state statute.[46]

Proposed provisions giving special deference to New Orleans to deal with the same crises afflicting many parts of the state is also simply unfair to the 91.9% of individuals in Louisiana who do not live within the confines of Orleans Parish.[47] Notions of fairness among voters may have played a role in the defeat of 2019 Proposed Amendment No. 4, which was aptly entitled “Allow New Orleans Property Tax Exemptions.”[48] When the inequity underlying the proposal was made clear to voters through the very title of the amendment, they rejected it by an overwhelming 63%.[49] If a constitutional convention is indeed on the horizon, Louisiana voters may have a chance to bring equality to the state’s constitutional framework.


The special treatment of New Orleans within Louisiana’s state constitution is unparalleled and unwise. It creates both a tiered system of local law and an inequity among parish governments. Though Louisiana’s colonial past provides some understanding for the prominence given to New Orleans within the state’s governing document, amendment proposals like those in the 2019 and 2022 electoral cycles reveal a trend toward unique treatment for reasons of privilege rather than necessity of function.[50] In the future, Louisiana voters should err on the side of caution and cast their ballots in favor of constitutional amendments that create a just and equal statewide governing document—and aver from those that create a mosaic of exemptions for a city in which an overwhelming majority of residents of Louisiana do not live.

[1] Charles Gayarré, “The New Orleans Bench and Bar in 1823,” An Uncommon Experience: Law and Judicial Institutions in Louisiana, 1803-2003, The Louisiana Purchase Bicentennial Series in Louisiana History, (vol. xiii) (1997) at 643.

[2] In colonial times, all arms of state government were housed in New Orleans in the Cabildo. Louisiana State Museum Online Exhibits The Cabildo: Two Centuries of Louisiana History, La. Dep’t of Culture, Recreation, & Tourism, [] (last visited Apr. 6, 2023).

[3] See discussion infra Part I.

[4] H.B. 143, 2021 Reg. Leg. Sess. (La. 2021). The exact language of the proposed amendment was as follows:

Do you support an amendment to limit the amount of an increase in the assessed value of residential property subject to the homestead exemption in Orleans Parish following reappraisal at ten percent of the property’s assessed value in the previous year? (January 1, 2023) (Amends Article VII, Section 18(F)(2)(a) (introductory paragraph) and Adds Article VII, Section 18(F)(3)) . . . .


[5] Public Affairs Research Council, PAR Guide to the 2022 Constitutional Amendments: An Independent, Nonpartisan Review 10–11 (2022).

[6] William Taylor Potter, Want to buy a house in Lafayette? Be ready to pay an average of $275k, Lafayette Daily Advertiser (June 10, 2022, 7:12 AM CT), [].

[7] Z. Melissa Lawrence, Constitutional Revision By Amendment – A Louisiana Tradition, 21 La. L. Rev. 849, 850 (1991). Prior to the current Louisiana Constitution of 1974, the state has had ten constitutions. Conrad Joyner, Notes on the Constitution of 1921, 41 The Sw. Soc. Sci. Q. 115, 115–16 (1960). In 1960, the state had ratified more constitutions than any other state. Id.

[8] Id. One of these constitutions was ratified in 1861 when Louisiana seceded from the Union and changed little substance. See Official Journal of the Proceedings of the State of Louisiana 11 (1861).

[9] Lawrence, supra note 7, at 849.

[10] Derek Warden, The Louisiana Constitution of 1974: A Reflection, (Feb. 14, 2023). [] or [].

[11] Lawrence, supra note 7, at 849.

[12] State Constitution of 1974, Appendix B: Amendments by Year, La. State Senate, [] (last visited Apr. 6, 2023).

[13] Warden, supra note 10, at 5; H.B. 259, 2022 Reg. Sess. (La. 2022).

[14] La. Const. art. XIII.

[15] Id.

[16] Lawrence, supra note 7, at 854.

[17] E.g., H.B. 143, 2021 Reg. Leg. Sess. (La. 2021), which would have given Orleans Parish certain tax breaks.

[18] Orleans Parish has an estimated population of 376,971 persons according to the United States Census Bureau. Quick Facts: Orleans Parish, Louisiana, U.S. Census Bureau, [] (last visited Apr. 6, 2023). Louisiana has an estimated population of 4,627,098 persons according to that same source. Quick Facts: Louisiana, U.S. Census Bureau, [] (last visited Apr. 6, 2023).

[19] La. Civ. Code art. 292 (2023). Thus, Orleans Parish comprises 8.1% of Louisiana’s total population.

[20] Id.

[21] La. Code Civ. Proc. art. 3134 (2023). A procés verbal is a document evidencing an inventory of succession assets by a notary public. Id. art. 3133.

[22] La. Code Crim. Proc. arts. 409.1, 228.1, 895.4, 228.2, 326, 404.1, 228.3, 404, 408, 409, 416, 417, 418, 735, 785, 895.1, 952, 211.2, 267, 314, 331, 405, 409.3, 409.5, 415, 416.1, 736, 784 (2023).

[23] E.g., La. Rev. Stat. § 56:551 (2023) (exempting residents of Orleans Parish from Department of Wildlife and Fisheries oversight while selling crabs, but requiring residents of all other parishes to comply).

[24] See generally La. Rev. Stat. (2023).

[25] See generally id.

[26] See generally La. Const. (1974).

[27] See generally id.

[28] See generally id.

[29] La. Const. art. V, § 32; id. art. VII, § 18; id. art. VIII, § 13; id. art. X, § 3.

[30] Id. art. V, § 32.

[31] Id. art. VIII, § 25(A)(2). This article was amended to include this provision in 1997, before Hurricane Katrina in 2005 which caused Orleans Parish to decrease in population from around 500,000 to 250,000. H.B. 857, La. Legis. Regular Session (1997); Jeff Adelston, For the 1st time since Hurricane Katrina, census stats show a shrinking New Orleans, (April 18, 2019),,-Author%20facebook&text=New%20Orleans%20saw%20its%20population,storm%2C%20according%20to%20census%20figures [].

[32] See generally Nev. Const. (2023). Nevada has amended their state constitution over 110 times without feeling the need to grant special constitutional treatment to Las Vegas. See Nevada Constitution,, [] (last visited May 18, 2023).

[33] Quick Facts: Nevada, U.S. Census Bureau, [] (last visitd Apr. 6, 2023). Nevada has a population of persons as of July 1, 2022, according to that same source. Quick Facts: Clark County, Nevada, U.S. Census Bureau, [] (last visited Apr. 6, 2023).

[34] Miss. Const. art. IV, § 101.

[35] See generally Miss. Const.

[36] Me. Const. art. IX, § 16.

[37] 17th Day’s Proceedings, in Official Journal of the House of Representatives of the State of Louisiana 38 (May 10, 2021).

[38] Louisiana House of Representatives, House Day 17, 2021 RS, La. House of Representatives Video Archives (May 10, 2021) (at 2:41:25–2:41:59), [].

[39] Id.

[40] 17th Day’s Proceedings, supra note 37.

[41] Unofficial Results, La. Sec. of State,!#TabFull [] (last visited Apr. 10, 2023) (select “November 8, 2022” from the “Election” drop-down option).

[42] La. Const. art. III, § 12. This bill, had it sought to create statutory law, may have run afoul of Article III, Sections 12(A)(5) or (B).

[43] Lawrence Schlam, State Constitutional Amending, Independent Interpretation, and Political Culture: A Case Study in Constitutional Stagnation, 43 DePaul L. Rev. 269, 282 (1994).

[44] Id. at 283 n.31.

[45] Joyner, supra note 7, at 119.

[46] Id. at 118–19.

[47] This is a reference to the population data discussed supra note 18 and accompanying text.

[48] Unofficial Results, supra note 41 (select “Oct. 12, 2019” from the “Election” drop-down option).

[49] Id.

[50] H.B. 143, 2021 Reg. Leg. Sess. (La. 2021); S.B. 79, 2019 Reg. Leg. Sess. (La. 2019).