Piper Hutchinson, Louisiana Illuminator
The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals is giving the Louisiana legislature until Jan. 15 to draw new congressional maps that include two majority Black districts.
Gov.-elect Jeff Landry, a Republican, says he will call a special redistricting session of the legislature once he’s sworn in Jan. 8. A spokesperson for current Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, said that action is “constitutionally impossible” because state law requires seven days’ notice before a special session proclamation. The court’s ruling states that “limited additional time” could be granted if requested.
A spokesperson for Edwards has not yet said whether he would seek to call a special session before the end of his term.
“This is about simple math, basic fairness, and the rule of law,” Edwards said in a press release. “With the 5th Circuit’s action today, I remain confident that we will have a fair map with two majority Black districts before the congressional elections next year.”
Outgoing Louisiana House Speaker Clay Schexnayder told the USA Today Network he thinks it would be best for the new Legislature to take up the issue. Current House Speaker Pro Tempore Rep. Tanner Magee, R-Houma, said that it would be impossible to get a majority of members to sign the petition “with Jeff putting his thumb on the scale,” referring to the Gov.-elect.
“Only way is if JBE calls it,” Magee said in a statement to the Illuminator.
The ruling comes in the case Robinson v. Ardoin, in which Black voters, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the progressive Power Coalition sued Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin and legislative leaders to block maps approved by the Republican-majority legislature. Lawmakers fashioned just one out of Louisiana’s six congressional districts as majority Black, despite a third of the state’s population being Black.
The plaintiffs got off to a slow start but eventually won a string of victories. When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Alabama’s congressional maps in June, Black voters in Louisiana felt their own victory was all but assured.
The 5th Circuit order tosses out a 2022 district court ruling, noting that it was no longer necessary because it was issued with the urgency of the 2022 congressional elections in mind.
Friday’s ruling comes on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in October to deny an emergency request to speed up the redistricting process.
If the legislature is able to approve a new map by the appellate court’s deadline, the plaintiffs can either accept the map or allow the court to rule on whether it complies with Section Two of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits local and state officials from adopting laws that purposefully discriminate against voters on the basis of race, color or membership in a language minority groups.
If the legislature does not draw a map by Jan. 15, a trial will be held on the validity of the 2022 map, which would likely result in the court redrawing the districts without legislative input.
Sen. Cameron Henry, the likely next President of the Senate, said legislators would do as the court instructed if convened in a special session.
“A lot of members would rather have it have input on how it’s drawn,” Henry said.
Public Service Commissioner Davante Lewis, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said he has always felt the maps being thrown out was inevitable.
“The whole time I think we just knew the only thing that was different was how long before we got justice, not if we would get justice,” Lewis said.
The legislature has several examples of congressional maps with two majority Black districts on hand. Democratic leaders in the state legislature made sure to file a variety of options during the 2022 special redistricting session to demonstrate such maps were feasible. Many were filed by Sen. Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge, a former congressman who held a majority Black seat in the 1990s that was eventually ruled unconstitutional.
Drawing a second majority Black district in Louisiana could have political ramifications for Republicans, both nationally and within the state.
Another Black district, which would almost certainly be filled by a Democrat, would come as a boost to national Democrats who hope to regain control of the U.S. House of Representatives.
It also sets up a showdown between Republicans within the state’s congressional districts. Relations between the members are reportedly frayed from the drama that ensued after House Speaker Kevin McCarthy was ousted. House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, who has spent years in house leadership, could not muster the votes to become the next speaker.
The process soured U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, a McCarthy ally who some viewed as insufficiently supportive of Scalise. The position eventually went to Rep. Mike Johnson, who represents northwest Louisiana.
Republicans will have to sacrifice a member in order to achieve the court’s ruling, likely either Graves or Rep. Julia Letlow, whose sprawling district starts in northeast Louisiana and extends south along the Mississippi border into the Florida Parishes.
Some legislators have expressed a reluctance to lose the state’s only woman in Congress, and Graves’ actions on the national stage could put him at risk of having his district redrawn.
Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Louisiana Illuminator maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: email@example.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.