GOP lawmakers reluctant to add majority-minority districts in Louisiana

Black voters significantly under-represented in state, federal government

By: - January 21, 2022 9:11 am
GOP lawmakers reluctant to add majority-minority districts in Louisiana

Louisiana’s current congressional map contains six districts, only one of which is majority-Black even though a third of the state’s population is Black. The other five are white Republican strongholds. (Public domain image/Department of the Interior — National Atlas of the United States,

State lawmakers tasked with redrawing political boundaries to reflect the latest Census figures made the final stop Thursday of their statewide redistricting roadshow in Baton Rouge. Although the data show a population increase of Black residents in urban areas and decreases of white residents in rural areas, Republican lawmakers voiced skepticism and probed for ways to avoid adopting new political maps that give minority voters more equal representation. 

Presented with nine different maps from the public that featured at least two majority-minority congressional districts, lawmakers on the Joint Governmental Affairs Committee spent most of the meeting grilling members of a coalition that submitted seven of those maps for consideration. The NAACP leads the group that includes organizations such as the ACLU of Louisiana, the League of Women Voters, the Power Coalition, Louisiana Progress, Fair Districts Louisiana and the Louisiana Budget Project, among others. 

“The GOP legislators made it clear they’re very skeptical about adding a second majority-minority congressional district,” Louisiana Progress Policy Director Peter Robins-Brown said. “Their questions were very nit-picky about specific districts in certain proposed maps, instead of engaging with the larger question of whether they want or need to draw a second majority-minority district.”

Several GOP lawmakers pushed back against the idea of creating a second majority-minority district, saying it might break up other “communities of interest” without specifying which ones concerned them. 

Robins-Brown said “communities of interest” is a vaguely defined redistricting term that can refer to virtually any area with people who have something in common. It is often used in different ways as a device to achieve different ends during redistricting debates, he said.   

House Speaker Pro Tempore Tanner Magee (R-Houma) grilled the ACLU’s Chris Kaiser on a proposed state House map that included nine new minority strongholds and made adjustments to Magee’s district. Magee asked Kaiser to describe particular communities in several individual House districts, of which there are 105 in total. 

As Kaiser stammered in his response, Magee asked the same question about another nearby district and then another next to that one. When Kaiser said he was more prepared to answer questions regarding changes to minority representation, Magee quickly shot back. 

“Actually, prepare to answer the questions I ask you, to be honest with you,” Magee said. 

The 2020 Census figures show Black residents in Louisiana are significantly under-represented in federal and state government. A third of the state’s population is Black, yet Black residents hold a majority in only one of Louisiana’s six congressional districts and just one of its seven state Supreme Court districts. The remaining districts have white Republican strongholds. Minority voters are also under-represented in the state legislature and on the state school board. 

As happens every 10 years, state lawmakers will draw new political boundaries affecting districts for the U.S. House of Representatives, Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, Louisiana Supreme Court and both chambers of the state legislature. The new maps are likely to have a significant impact on virtually every political election in Louisiana over the next decade, and legislative staff analysts have repeatedly warned lawmakers to expect significant changes to their districts.

The redistricting roadshow brought lawmakers to public forums across the state over the past few months. A common theme from residents was the desire for equal voter representation and competitive districts that are not simply guaranteed wins for either Republicans or Democrats. 

The federal Voting Rights Act prohibits political maps that disenfranchise minority voters if they can be redrawn in ways to  provide more equal representation to those voters. The act also requires states to draw congressional districts that are largely equal in population. 

However, partisans in state legislatures across the country have for decades sought to cement their power by gerrymandering or by ignoring the federal laws and banking on courts to accept arguments or interpretations that benefit the ruling party, majority race or other special interest groups. 

All seven of the maps the NAACP proposes comply with federal law and contain districts that are more geographically compact than Louisiana’s current congressional boundaries, the coalition members said.    

“The very reason why we submitted these seven was to show how easy it is to draw a map with two minority districts,” the NAACP’s Jared Evans said. “It’s easy and can be done. There’s an infinite number of ways this can happen.”

Rep. Les Farnum (R-Sulphur) asked if it would be possible to draw a map that does not create a second majority-minority district but still satisfies the Voting Rights Act. 

“Not necessarily,” NAACP’s Michael Pernick responded before offering to help lawmakers create maps that would achieve any of their goals to protect communities of interest while also ensuring that they comply with federal law. None responded to Pernick’s offer at that time. 

The lawmakers considered a congressional map that would eliminate all of Louisiana’s majority-Black districts. James Henry, the resident who created it, said he did it because he enjoys puzzles and wanted to try to find a balance between expanding minority representation and reducing the number of split parishes.

Although analysis under the legislature’s parameters indicated the map contains zero majority-minority districts, Henry said his own analysis, using parameters from a public map-drawing website, indicated it would likely preserve Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District as a majority-Black stronghold while also creating a more competitive district in the Baton Rouge area.

Reps. Barry Ivey (R-Central) and John Stefanski (R-Crowley) said they were impressed by Henry’s work. The only committee member to voice disapproval of Henry’s map was Rep. Sam Jenkins (D-Shreveport).

“We have, at least at this time, one majority-minority district, and your proposal eliminates that,” Jenkins said.

Lawmakers will further consider and debate the proposed maps during the upcoming redistricting session that begins Feb. 1. The Legislature, where Republicans hold a majority in the House and Senate, will have until Feb. 20 to finalize their own versions. Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, gets to approve or veto the maps. 

Lawmakers have repeatedly encouraged the public to monitor the redistricting process, inspect the proposed maps, and provide feedback at


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Wesley Muller
Wesley Muller

Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the years since then, he has freelanced for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and worked on staff at the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. He also taught English as an adjunct instructor at Baton Rouge Community College. Among his recognitions are McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association. Muller is an alumnus of Jesuit High School and the University of New Orleans and is a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper. He lives in Louisiana with his wife and two sons.