BATON ROUGE (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday put on hold a lower court ruling that Louisiana must draw new congressional districts before the 2022 elections to increase Black voting power.
As a result, Louisiana’s November congressional elections will be held using a Republican-drawn map with white majorities in five of six districts. The high court's ruling paused an earlier decision by a federal judge concerned the map violates the Voting Rights Act and dilutes Black voter clout.
Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, expressed disappointment with the development and reiterated his stance that creating a second African-American majority district was “about simple math, basic fairness, and the rule of law."
“Black Louisianans make up one third of our population, and one third of our districts should be majority Black when such a map can be drawn, and, as has been clearly demonstrated, that map is more compact, better adheres to the legal principles governing redistricting, and will perform,” he said.
With the three liberal justices dissenting, the high court short-circuited the earlier order from U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick to create a second majority Black congressional district in Louisiana. As the map stands, five of Louisiana’s six seats appear likely to remain in Republican hands.
State Rep. Vincent Pierre, chairman of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus, said he was “disheartened” by the Supreme Court’s decision and added that “hopes for change in the short term have been dashed.” The Democrat described the map approved by the legislature as an “obvious violation” of the Voting Rights Act.
Democrats and the Black Caucus argue that by the numbers at least two of the six districts should have Black majorities.
The court's action is similar to an order issued in February in Alabama that allowed the state to hold elections in 2022 under a map drawn by Alabama’s GOP-controlled legislature that contains one majority-Black district. Alabama has seven seats in the House of Representatives.
The justices are hearing arguments in the Alabama case in October. The Louisiana case will remain on hold under the court renders a decision on the Alabama case, the justices said.
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.
This year’s redistricting process in Louisiana has been a tense political tug-of-war, with the Republican-dominated legislature and Edwards fighting over the boundaries since February, when lawmakers approved a congressional map with white majorities in five of six districts. The governor vetoed the map. However the legislature overrode the veto — marking the first time in nearly three decades that lawmakers refused to accept a governor’s refusal of a bill they had passed.
Sen. Sharon Hewitt, a Slidell Republican and a leader in the remapping effort, has insisted 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 voter power.
Hewitt tweeted on Tuesday that she was “very pleased” by the Supreme Court's decision and maintains that the map has always been constitutional.
Along with tense debate on Louisiana's House and Senate floor, the legal battle to determine the state's congressional boundaries has played out, simultaneously, at all three levels of the federal judiciary.
In early June, the federal judge Dick struck down the map for violating the Voting Rights Act, citing that the “evidence of Louisiana’s long and ongoing history of voting-related discrimination weighs heavily in favor of Plaintiffs.” Dick, who was appointed by then-President Barack Obama, ordered lawmakers to redesign the map and this time include a second majority Black district by June 20.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal briefly put a hold on Dick’s deadline, but later removed the hold and scheduled to hear arguments in July.
With little willingness to compromise from the GOP and a tight deadline that was not extended, the session ended with no new map and as a result the task was passed to Dick. The judge scheduled a hearing on the issue for Wednesday, but it has been canceled following the Supreme Court's decision.