A federal judge has struck down Louisiana’s congressional redistricting map that state lawmakers adopted earlier this year. In a ruling issued Monday, Judge Shelly Dick found the Legislature violated the Voting Rights Act by limiting representation of Louisiana’s one-third Black population to just one of the state’s six U.S. House seats.
Legal Defense Fund attorney Jared Evans, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of several Black voters, confirmed the news to the Illuminator as the Legislature prepared to wrap up its final day of the 2022 regular session.
“The ruling is 157 pages detailing racial discrimination on top of bigotry,” Evans said, adding that Dick, a federal court appointee of President Barack Obama, “even found the (lawmakers’) vote itself was racially polarized.”
The judge was “very very clear” that the only remedy is for the Legislature to adopt a map with two majority-minority congressional districts, Evans said.
Rep. John Stefanski, who led the redistricting effort in the state House, said he was not surprised by the ruling but expects the map to be upheld on appeal.
Lawmakers have already filed an appeal with the U.S. Fifth Circuit in New Orleans, Evans said.
“The evidence of Louisiana’s long and ongoing history of voting-related discrimination weighs heavily in favor of Plaintiffs,” Judge Dick wrote in Monday’s ruling.
The ruling grants an injunction preventing Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin from holding any congressional elections under the map enacted by the Louisiana Legislature. Dick ruled that the appropriate remedy is a “congressional redistricting plan that includes an additional majority-Black congressional district.”
Her order allows the Legislature another chance to draw such a map with a deadline of June 20. If lawmakers fail to do so, the Court will “issue additional orders to enact” a remedial plan.
Gov. John Bel Edwards has plans to call lawmakers into a special redistricting session to meet the court’s June 20 deadline.
Dick also pushed the deadline for candidates to qualify by nominating petition from June 22 to July 8.
Among her reasons for the ruling, the judge found state lawmakers were able to draw two majority-minority district without using race as the predominate factor over traditional districting principles. Those maps “outperformed the enacted plan on every relevant criteria,” she wrote.
During the redistricting debates at the capitol, Republican lawmakers frequently claimed it was better for Black voters if they were limited to having a majority in one district instead of two, arguing that two districts might dilute their voting numbers to ineffective levels. But past election data refuted this claim, and the judge did not buy the argument, writing, “The Court declines to follow Defendants down this very attenuated road.”
The judge found the plaintiffs’ redistricting experts credible and reliable and offering clear analysis supported by historical voting data. Dick also noted one of the defense experts, mathematician Dr. Tumulesh Solanky, had no experience in analyzing racially polarized voting patterns, while another defense expert, Dr. John Alford, failed to present any meaningful substantive analysis.
“It is undisputed that there has not been a Black candidate elected to statewide office in Louisiana since Reconstruction,” the judge wrote.
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