The Louisiana Senate & Governmental Affairs Committee meets Feb. 2, 2022, to consider a proposal to redistrict the state Senate during a special session devoted to redrawing political boundaries for the Legislature, Congress and other elected seats. (Greg LaRose/Louisiana Illuminator)
A federal appellate panel has issued a temporary stay for a lower court ruling that called for the Louisiana Legislature to redraw the congressional districts it approved earlier this year. Gov. John Bel Edwards has called lawmakers into special session next week to meet the U.S. district court judge’s deadline for new maps, but the Republican leaders of the Louisiana Legislature want him to rescind his call.
Three judges from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeal in New Orleans issued the stay Thursday night on Monday’s decision from Judge Shelly Dick. She had given lawmakers until June 20 to come up with new districts after she determined the original versions did not comply with the federal Voting Rights Act because they don’t fairly represent Louisiana’s Black population.
Only one of Louisiana’s six congressional districts, the New Orleans-based 2nd District, has a Black representative. According to the 2020 Census, Black residents make up 31% of the state’s population. Republicans in the Legislature have maintained that creating an additional Black district would dilute the voting strength of minority voters and make it that much less likely a Black person could get elected.
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund brought the lawsuit against the maps on behalf of a group of Black voters from Louisiana. Defendants in the case are state lawmakers and Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, the state’s top elections official.
The5th Circuit will next consider whether the temporary stay will become permanent. It calls for both parties in the case to provide their responses by 4 p.m. Friday.
In the meantime, Senate President Page Cortez and House Speaker Clay Schexnayder have publicly called on Edwards to cancel the five-day special redistricting session he had scheduled to begin June 15. In an emailed statement Friday morning, the chamber leaders said the governor’s call was “unnecessary and premature.”
“Until the courts have made a final determination on the congressional maps as they were passed by a super majority of the Legislature, we are asking the Governor to rescind his special session call. Before the judicial redistricting process is complete, any special session would be premature and a waste of taxpayer money,” their statement reads.
The Louisiana Constitution doesn’t spell out if or how a governor can rescind the call for a special session. Edwards issued his call Monday, complying with the seven-day notice the state charter requires for lawmakers.
Judge Dick, an appointee of President Barack Obama, published her 157-page ruling Monday just as the Legislature was concluding its regular session. Lawmakers convened a special redistricting session from Feb. 1-20, during which it added no additional Black districts to maps for the state House or Senate, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Public Service Commission. The session adjourned without a new district map for the Louisiana Supreme Court, although lawmakers aren’t obligated to redraw those boundaries.
The appellate panel considering Dick’s ruling consists of Judges Stephen Higginson of New Orleans, an Obama appointee; Judge Jerry Smith of Houston, a President Ronald Reagan appointee; and Judge Don Willett of Austin, Texas, a President Donald Trump appointee.
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Correction: This story was updated to reflect the next steps the 5th Circuit panel will take with the lawsuit.
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