Lawmakers bank on single redistricting proposal as court deadline looms

Congressional map would give Black voters slight majorities in two districts

By: - June 17, 2022 8:25 pm
Lawmakers bank on single redistricting proposal as court deadline looms

Louisiana Sen. Rick Ward’s congressional redistricting map would give Black voters slight majorities in two of the state’s six U.S. House districts. (Image source: legis.la.gov)

The Louisiana Legislature advanced a single redistricting bill Friday that might comply with a federal court order to add a second majority-Black district to the state’s congressional map. Lawmakers have just three days left to pass a map that complies with the Voting Rights Act. 

The Senate redistricting committee moved Senate Bill 3, filed by Sen. Rick Ward, R-Port Allen, to the Senate floor. It would give Black voters slight majorities in two of Louisiana’s six U.S. House districts with Black voting age populations of 50.08% in one and 50.14% in the other. 

The map made it out of committee on a similarly slim margin of 5-4 with Republican Sens. Bret Allain and Franklin Foil joining three Democrats to report the bill “without action.” That motion, which Allain devised, kept the map alive without the GOP senators having to signal approval of its contents.

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Allain said he couldn’t support the map but acknowledged the Senate needed to “keep an instrument alive” to send to the chamber floor. 

The committee had earlier defeated a map from Sen. Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge, that featured two majority-Black districts, voting 6-3 against along racial and party lines. 

The Legislature is under a court-ordered deadline to pass a map with two majority-Black districts no later than 6 p.m. Monday or else the court will draw one for them. U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick ruled last week that GOP state lawmakers racially gerrymandered the Louisiana’s congressional map to tilt elections in favor of white conservative candidates, and she specifically ordered lawmakers to add a second Black district. 

Although Louisiana’s population is nearly one-third Black, lawmakers kept majority-white strongholds in five of the six districts during a February redistricting session.  

NAACP Legal Defense Fund attorney Jared Evans, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of a group of Black voters, said Ward’s map might “barely” comply with Dick’s order. 

Although Ward’s map is not the preferred choice of either side, Ward said lawmakers should not remove themselves completely “out of the equation” by relying solely on the judicial system to draw the map.

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The House redistricting committee rejected a similar map Friday under House Bill 4 from Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Central. The map gave Black voters slight majorities of just over 50% in two of the districts. Ivey said he offered it as a compromise that would have the least impact on the status quo districts. 

The only lawmaker to draw two maps this session, Ivey shelved his second map proposal, HB 3, upon request of the committee chair’s concern with time constraints, he said.

A second option from Rep. Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans, featured two Black stronghold districts but failed in committee by a single vote. 

Repeating an argument that some Black residents made during the committee hearing, Duplessis said every civil right he and other Black people have today came initially from the courts.

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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.

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