The Louisiana Legislature approved new district lines for the state’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. (Image courtesy of Louisiana Legislature)
The White Republican majority in the Louisiana Legislature exerted its influence on political redistricting with maps that maintain their control across a state that has grown increasingly diverse. Lawmakers concluded a special session Friday with the approval of new lines for Louisiana’s seats in Congress, keeping five majority-White districts and one majority-Black.
Updated maps for the state school board, Public Service Commission and the Louisiana House and Senate also kept the same share of minority districts, despite Census data that show Louisiana with a Black population of 33% and 40% of residents who identify as a minority.
To keep district lines where they want them, GOP legislators will likely have at least two more major hurdles to clear: possible vetoes from Gov. John Bel Edwards and lawsuits from civil rights and voter advocacy groups.
“I remain adamant that the maps should reflect the growth of the African American population in our state over the last 10 years, allowing for minority groups to have an opportunity at electing candidates of their own choosing,” Edwards said in a statement after lawmakers adjourned, “and I do have concerns that several of the maps do not fulfill that moral and legal requirement.”
Identical bills from the House and Senate propose new district boundaries for Louisiana’s six seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Much to the frustration of Democrats, Republicans repeatedly refused to add a second minority district.
Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, said the Legislature used to pass “twin bills” all the time and so they returned to that practice in this case. He added that the governor was aware lawmakers would OK two maps and didn’t object.
“Both authors wanted credit” for the map, Cortez said.
Sen. Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge, authored three versions of congressional district maps that did not advance from committee. Each sought an additional minority seat for Louisiana in Congress.
“The record is clear,” Fields said in an interview. “There was no effort made to create a second minority district. I mean just none whatsoever, and I think that’s very unfortunate.”
The Senate version of the congressional map, sponsored by Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, advanced from the upper chamber with a 26-9 vote and cleared the House, 64-31. Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, authored the version in the House, which voted 62-27 in favor. The Senate backed the proposal, 27-10.
The House votes are notable because they do not reach the threshold that would be required to override the governor’s possible veto, although some lawmakers were not present for the vote. A veto override requires a two-thirds supermajority in the House and Senate. That means at least 70 votes in the House and 26 in the Senate. Republicans have 27 members in the Senate but are two shy of a supermajority in the House.
Fields said the next step for his colleagues in the Legislative Black Caucus will be to support the governor in upholding any of his vetoes.
“It’s just a question of right and wrong,” Fields said. “Is it right or is it wrong? If I were governor, I certainly would have no hesitation whatsoever in vetoing this map because it’s the right thing to do.”
Hewitt, who chaired the Senate redistricting committee, said she would “100%” push for a veto override if Edwards rejects any of the maps.
Some House Republicans broke from party lines to oppose the congressional maps.
Rep. Gabe Firment, R-Pollock, objected because the final version splits his constituency in Grant Parish between two congressional districts. He said the lawmakers leading the redistricting effort never consulted him on those changes.
“I just feel like this was done in the dark of night,” Firment said on the House floor. “It stinks to high heaven if you ask me.”
Reps. Beryl Amedee, R-Houma, and Blake Miguez, R-Erath, also voted no because the maps split St. Mary and St. Martin parishes between two districts.
Hewitt said the veto overrides will likely be attempted during the regular legislative session, which begins March 14.
Rep. Sam Jenkins, D-Shreveport, a member of the Black Caucus and chairman of the House Democrats, said both versions of the map violate the Voting Rights Act and should be vetoed. The House Democratic Caucus has asked the governor to reject the congressional maps and “any other map” that violates the Voting Rights Act.
The Louisiana House and Senate sent final versions of their new political maps to the governor’s desk, but not before a fight between Acadiana lawmakers spilled out into public on the House floor. Legislators expect the maps to go into effect for the 2023 election cycle and stay in place for a decade, lawsuits or vetoes could derail those plans.
Neither map passed with a veto-proof majority, and Gov. John Bel Edwards’ staff Friday said he hadn’t decided whether to reject the maps yet. Civil rights organizations have also threatened to file lawsuits to get the maps thrown out in court.
Sen. Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, said in an interview earlier this week that he did not expect the governor to veto the legislative maps. Based on discussions prior to the Legislature’s redistricting session, Cortez said Edwards appeared most inclined to veto U.S. House map and not the lawmakers’ own political districts.
The Senate passed the House map 25-11, and the Senate map was approved in a 65-31 vote in the House. A handful of senators and representatives were missing from both votes.
Democrats make up the bulk of the legislators who voted against the maps in both chambers. Black lawmakers are upset that neither of the maps increase the number of majority-Black seats in the Legislature and are hoping their votes in opposition strengthen any lawsuits seeking to get the maps thrown out.
Majority-Black districts make up only 28% of the seats in the newly drawn maps. Civil rights groups argue the new legislative maps violate federal voting rights laws because they dilute the voting power of Louisiana’s Black residents.
A coalition that includes the ACLU, the NAACP and the Southern Poverty Law Center sent a letter to the governor Friday asking that he veto the legislative maps, which said leave Louisiana’s Black voters “severely underrepresented.”
“Adding new majority-minority Black opportunity districts would provide Black voters with representation to address the state’s pervasive and ongoing record of inequality of opportunity in various aspects of life,” the letter said in part.
Public Service Commission
There was minimal resistance to creating a map of Public Service Commission districts that keeps just one of the five districts with a majority-minority makeup. Although minorities are underrepresented on the state’s utility regulatory body, they do not have a large enough population share in Louisiana to hold a second majority-minority seat.
The new boundaries from Rep. John Stefanski, R-Crowley, were approved unanimously in the House and Senate.
Louisiana Supreme Court
Although one proposal for new state Supreme Court district lines appeared poised for passage Friday, lawmakers left it on the sidelines. They could revisit the issue in the regular session, or a court could force the state to redistrict the court like it did 25 years ago.
By law, the Legislature does not have to redraw the court’s district lines. The last time they did was in 1997 after a federal lawsuit, and it used Census figures from six years earlier. That means the current lines are based on 31-year-old population figures.
Hewitt advanced a bill out of the Senate and the House redistricting committee that stayed with just one minority district out of seven on the court, but lawmakers did not bring it up for a vote Friday.
Greg LaRose contributed to this report.
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