WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Monday lifted its hold on a Louisiana political remap case, increasing the likelihood that the Republican-dominated state will have to redraw boundary lines to create a second mostly Black congressional district.
For more than a year, there has been a legal battle over the GOP-drawn political boundaries, with a federal judge, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards and opponents saying that the map is unfair and discriminates against Black voters.
The map, which was used in Louisiana's November congressional election, has white majorities in five of six districts, all currently held by Republicans. This is despite Black people accounting for one-third of the state's population. Another mostly Black district could deliver another congressional seat to Democrats.
“I’m super excited,” said Ashley Shelton, head of the Louisiana-based Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, one of the groups challenging the maps. “What this does is it puts us back on track to realize a second majority-minority district.”
In a written statement, the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus said, while work still needs to be done, it is “very confident” the state will have two majority-Black districts by the 2024 congressional election.
“As I have consistently stated, this is about simple math, basic fairness, and the rule of law," Edwards said Monday. “I am confident we will have a fair map in the near future.”
Every 10 years, state lawmakers — armed with new U.S. Census Bureau information — redraw political boundaries for seats in the U.S. House, state Senate, state House, Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Public Service Commission. The process ultimately affects which political parties, viewpoints and people control the government bodies that write laws, set utility rates and create public school policies.
The Louisiana case had been on hold pending the decision in a redistricting case involving Alabama. Monday's order follows the court's rejection earlier in June of a congressional redistricting map in Alabama.
In both states, Black voters are a majority in just one congressional district. Lower courts had ruled that the maps raised concerns that Black voting power had been diluted, in violation of the landmark federal Voting Rights Act.
The justices had allowed the state's challenged map to be used in last year's elections while they considered the Alabama case.
In Louisiana, U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick struck down the map in June 2022 for violating the Voting Rights Act, saying “evidence of Louisiana’s long and ongoing history of voting-related discrimination weighs heavily in favor of Plaintiffs.” Dick ordered lawmakers to hold a special session to redesign the map and include a second majority-Black district. However, lawmakers failed to meet their deadline and, as a result, Dick said she would enact a map of her choosing.
The Louisiana case had been appealed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans when the high court put the issue on hold. The justices said the appeal could go forward before next year’s congressional elections.
U.S. Rep. Troy Carter, Louisiana’s only Democratic and Black congressman, applauded the Supreme Court for lifting its hold.
“This decision shows that in a healthy democracy fair and equitable representation matters, whether to the people of Louisiana or anywhere else in the world,” Carter tweeted.
The redistricting process in Louisiana proved to be a political tug-of-war, with the Republican-dominated Legislature and Democrats, including Edwards, fighting over the boundaries since February 2022. Along with the legal battle, the debate over the map included Edwards vetoing the boundaries and the Legislature overriding his veto — the first time in nearly three decades that lawmakers refused to accept a governor’s refusal of a bill they had passed.
Republicans have stood by their statements that the map is fair, and argue that trying to include the state’s widely dispersed Black population in two separate congressional districts would result in two districts with very narrow Black majorities that could actually diminish Black voting power.
McGill reported from New Orleans and Cline from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
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