WASHINGTON (AP) — The 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.
With the three liberal justices dissenting, the high court short-circuited an order from a federal judge to create a second majority Black congressional district in Louisiana.
The state will hold elections this year under a congressional map adopted by its Republican-dominated legislature with white majorities in five of six districts.
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 Democratic Gov. John Bel 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.
Democrats and the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus argue that the adopted map dilutes the political clout of African American voters and that based on “simple math” at least two of the six districts should have Black majorities. Nearly one-third of Louisiana’s population is Black.
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.
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, U.S. District Judge Shelly 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.” She 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.
The Associated Press