Louisiana’s turn to (maybe) fix its racial gerrymander

They’re on the clock.

The Supreme Court on Monday denied Louisiana’s attempt to block a lower court’s order that it redraw its congressional maps. That court found that the state had likely diluted the power of Black voters in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

“This will allow the matter to proceed before the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit for review in the ordinary course and in advance of the 2024 congressional elections in Louisiana,” the brief Supreme Court order said.

Louisiana was trying to take a shortcut by going right to the Supreme Court — which the majority denied — though the Court had let the gerrymandered map stand for the 2022 midterms, despite the lower court finding.

The Court’s sending the case back down to the lower courts opens the door to Louisiana eventually having to redraw its map to include two districts — instead of one — where Black voters have the ability to elect the candidate of their choice. In the meantime, though, the case for adding this district may not fare well at the infamously right-wing 5th Circuit, setting up a new round of appeals that will likely see the case return to the Supreme Court in the future.

Experts pointed to Louisiana — along with Georgia and Texas — as the likeliest states to see their maps reconfigured with additional minority opportunity districts after the Court knocked down Alabama’s racially gerrymandered map in a surprising, pro-voting rights decision earlier this month. The Supreme Court had paused the Louisiana case until it came to a decision on the similar Alabama one.

That Alabama ruling had near-immediate ramifications, as the judge in a Georgia redistricting case directed the parties involved to submit supplemental briefings addressing the new Supreme Court decision.

See here and here for the background, and click the story link for a copy of the ruling. Daily Kos has more details.

Before the high court intervened last year to put the Louisiana matter on hold, in fact, it had already proceeded quite far. After determining that the GOP’s map had likely violated the VRA, Judge Shelly Dick gave the legislature the first crack at drafting a new plan, but Republicans failed to take action by the court’s deadline. The judge then asked the parties to submit their own proposals for maps that would comply with the VRA. Republicans once again refused to participate, but the plaintiffs, led by the state branch of the NAACP, presented a plan drawn by redistricting expert Anthony Fairfax.

That plan is shown at the top of this post, alongside Louisiana’s current congressional map (a larger version can be found here, and interactive versions of both can be found here). By linking the cities of New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Republican legislators were able to pack a large number of Black voters into the 2nd District (shown in green) while scattering them elsewhere. That ensured that Louisiana’s five other districts would remain majority-white and therefore solidly Republican, despite the fact that a third of the state is African American.

The plaintiffs’ map, by contrast, separates the two cities, giving the 5th District (in yellow) a Black majority, just like the 2nd. As a consequence, both districts would likely elect the type of candidates preferred by Black voters—almost certainly Black Democrats, like Rep. Troy Carter, who represents the current 2nd District.

Despite Republican lawmakers’ past intransigence, the judge will probably give them another chance to prepare a new map. But once again, they may not comply—at least, not with alacrity. While the Supreme Court won’t bail them out this time, the 5th Circuit might. That ultraconservative appellate court would field any further appeals, and as legal expert Rick Hasen suggests, those judges are very likely to be hostile to plaintiffs’ arguments, despite the Supreme Court’s Alabama ruling. (The Alabama case differs from the Louisiana case in one key aspect: Due to a particular federal law invoked in the former but not the latter, all appeals in the Alabama lawsuit go directly to the Supreme Court.)

It’s certainly possible that the Republicans in Louisiana could run out the clock on preparing a new map for the 2024 election, but at some point they’ll have to comply. In the meantime we wait, and we look forward to seeing how the Texas case plays out when it gets to court.

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