BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana Legislature has been given until Jan. 15 to approve a new congressional map after a lower court ruled that the current political boundaries diminish the influence of the state’s Black voters. This ruling came from a federal New Orleans appeals court on Friday.
However, it is still to be determined whether the current Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards will call a special session to redraw the political boundaries or if Republican Gov.-elect Jeff Landry, who will be inaugurated on Jan. 8, will have enough time to convene a special redistricting session and meet the court’s deadline.
If the Legislature fails to pass a new map by mid-January, then the lower district court should conduct a trial and “decide on a plan for the 2024 elections,” as ordered by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth District.
The political battle over Louisiana’s GOP-drawn congressional map has lasted for more than a year and a half, including Edwards vetoing the political boundaries and the Legislature overriding his veto, marking the first time in nearly three decades that lawmakers rejected a governor’s refusal of a bill they had passed.
Louisiana is among the states still grappling with congressional districts following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in June that Alabama had violated the Voting Rights Act.
In the November congressional election, Louisiana’s current map, which was utilized, has white majorities in five of six districts, despite Black people accounting for one-third of the state’s population.
Republicans, who dominate Louisiana’s Legislature, argue that the map is fair and contend that Black populations in the state are too dispersed to be united into a second majority Black district.
Democrats assert that the map discriminates against Black voters and advocate for two majority-minority districts. Currently, five of the six districts are held by Republicans, and adding another predominantly Black district could secure a second congressional seat for Democrats.
In June 2022, a lower court invalidated Louisiana’s map for violating the Voting Rights Act. U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick emphasized in her ruling the evidence of Louisiana’s long history of voting-related discrimination, ordering the map to be redrawn to include a second majority-Black district before it was appealed to the 5th Circuit.
In October, the Supreme Court rejected an emergency appeal from Black voters in Louisiana to expedite the process of drawing new congressional districts in the state.
Lawmakers now have until mid-January to draw and pass a new map, which would necessitate a special session.
A special session may be convened by the governor or the presiding officers of both chambers, upon a written petition of most elected members of the House and Senate.
While Edwards has not confirmed whether he will call a special session, he remains insistent that a second majority-Black district is essential to accurately represent the state.
“This is about simple math, basic fairness, and the rule of law,” Edwards mentioned in a written statement.
U.S. Rep. Troy Carter, the state’s sole Black and Democratic member of Congress, expressed hope that the Legislature will draw a new map with a second majority-Black district. Carter urged lawmakers to “do the right thing” and emphasized that “there is no need to wait for a court to force compliance with clear law.”
If Gov.-elect Landry calls a special session, the timing will be tight, as Landry won’t be inaugurated until Jan. 8, and the session couldn’t commence until seven days after the proclamation is issued, meaning the earliest lawmakers could return to the Capitol is the Jan. 15 deadline. Landry could not be reached for comment.