Louisiana Senators talk during a recess of floor debate on a redistricting map (pictured in background) on Feb. 18, 2022. (Wes Muller/Louisiana Illuminator)
Gov. John Bel Edwards on Tuesday called the Louisiana Legislature into a special session to redraw the state’s congressional redistricting map that a federal judge ruled unlawful for limiting representation of the state’s one-third Black population to just one of its six U.S. House districts.
Edwards’ proclamation calls for the session to begin June 15 and conclude by 6 p.m. June 20. The Louisiana Constitution requires a notice of seven calendar days from the time the governor calls for an extraordinary session to when such session may begin.
In a statement, the governor called the federal court ruling “correct and completely unsurprising.”
“It is imperative that the Louisiana Legislature come to Baton Rouge to redraw these maps quickly and fairly, in compliance with the judge’s order and before the fall elections,” Edwards said in the press release. “Louisiana’s congressional map of six districts needs to contain at least two majority African American districts in order to be fair to Louisiana’s voting population, which is one-third Black voters, per the latest U.S. Census data. This is required by simple math, basic fairness and the rule of law.”
The Constitution limits the “power to legislate” during a special session to the “objects specifically enumerated,” meaning the subject matter specified in the governor’s proclamation.
Those objects, according to Edwards’ order, include: “To legislate relative to the redistricting of the Congressional districts of Louisiana; to provide for an additional majority Black congressional district; and to provide relative to the effectiveness of such districts.”
Just hours before the Legislature adjourned its 2022 regular session Monday, Judge Shelly Dick of the Middle District of Louisiana, an appointee of President Barack Obama, issued a 157-page ruling in Robinson v. Ardoin. She found the Legislature’s newly adopted congressional map violates the Voting Rights Act.
The Republican-dominated Legislature approved the map earlier this year, ignoring calls from residents and activists to draw a map that accurately reflects the state’s racial demographics. The 2020 Census indicated 33% of Louisiana’s population is Black, yet they are represented by only one-sixth of the state’s U.S. House seats.
Judge Dick ruled that the appropriate remedy is a “congressional redistricting plan that includes an additional majority-Black congressional district.” Her order allows the Legislature another chance to draw such a map with a deadline of June 20. If lawmakers fail to do so, the court will “issue additional orders to enact” a remedial plan.
However, almost as soon as Dick’s ruling was issued, lawmakers had filed an appeal with the U.S. Fifth Circuit in New Orleans.
It is unclear if lawmakers will heed the governor’s call. They might ignore or challenge the proclamation, citing the separation of powers doctrine, which limits government branches from interfering with one another.
NAACP Legal Defense Fund attorney Jared Evans, who filed the Robinson v. Ardoin lawsuit on behalf of several Louisiana voters, said he doesn’t expect the Legislature to act.
“They aren’t going to pass a map with two black districts either way, so they may just kick it back to the court,” Evans said.
The court anticipated the Legislature’s failure to act, which is why the judge gave them a specific deadline to meet, Evans said, adding that he doesn’t expect the Fifth Circuit to issue its ruling before the deadline.
Reached by text message Tuesday afternoon, House Speaker Pro Tempore Tanner Magee, R-Houma, said, “I’m sure we will comport with all court orders.”
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