Louisiana must finalize new electoral map by January, federal appeals court says

By | November 11, 2023

A federal appeals court on Friday approved a lower court ruling that Louisiana’s latest congressional map most likely violated the Voting Rights Act by diluting the power of black voters, and ordered the state to finalize a new map by January 15.

THE decisionhanded down by a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, said the state Legislature should complete a new set of voting districts in time “so that the results can be used to Louisiana’s 2024 Congressional Elections.”

Louisiana is one of several southern states led by Republicans mired in legal battles as they face accusations of racial discrimination in their voting maps.

In June, the The Supreme Court ruled that Alabama had violated the Voting Rights Act by diluting the power of black voters in its redistricting process. Last month, a federal judge ruled that Georgia had done the same, ordering a new map to be drawn in time for the 2024 elections.

The Fifth Circuit’s ruling, issued Friday, referenced the Supreme Court’s ruling and said that “we now apply the court’s reasoning to Louisiana’s redistricting.”

Jeff Landry, the state’s Republican governor-elect, was to call a special legislative session to address the issue. But Mr. Landry won’t be inaugurated until Jan. 8, making it unclear whether lawmakers will have enough time to decide on a new map before the Jan. 15 deadline. He was not immediately available for comment Friday.

It was unclear whether outgoing Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, would call a special session before the end of his term. “I remain confident that we will have a fair map with two majority-black districts before next year’s congressional elections,” he said in a statement.

After the 2020 census, all states were forced to redraw their congressional districts to account for their changing populations. By one measure, the census found that Louisiana’s black population grew 3.8 percent over the previous decade, accounting for nearly a third of the state’s population, while the number of residents whites had decreased by 6.3 percent. About a third of the state’s population is black.

But Louisiana’s Republican Legislature passed a map that included only one majority-black congressional district out of the state’s six.

In March 2022, Governor Edwards vetoed the map, saying it “violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and is also inconsistent with the principle of fundamental fairness that should have guided this process.”

The Legislature overrode Mr. Edwards’ veto, prompting a coalition including the NAACP Louisiana State Conference, the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice and nine Louisiana voters to challenge it.

Last summer, a federal judge in Louisiana ruled that the map had been racially altered and ordered lawmakers to create a second district that held a majority of black voters.

Despite this, Louisiana’s controversial map was used in the 2022 election because of a legal doctrine that judges should not change election procedures too close to Election Day.

The state’s black voters traditionally support Democrats; a second majority-black district could tip the scales in that party’s favor and shift the balance of power in Congress, where Republicans control the House by only a slim majority.

If Louisiana lawmakers can’t approve a new map by the January deadline, the Fifth Circuit judges wrote, then the lower district court should hold a trial and “decide on a plan for the 2024 elections” . Lawmakers would have no say in a court-created map.

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