Supreme Court blocks judge from drawing Louisiana’s congressional map

Last-minute order comes without explanation from justices

By: - June 28, 2022 4:26 pm
U.S Supreme Court

(Al Drago/Getty Images)

Just one day before a federal judge planned to enact a new congressional map with two majority-Black districts in Louisiana, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a last-minute stay of her ruling. It means the map that will be used for this fall’s elections is the version Republican legislative leaders created that the judge ruled was racially gerrymandered.

Over the dissent of the three liberal justices, the Supreme Court’s stay order arrived Tuesday afternoon with no signatures or explanations from the conservative majority. The order is not a decision on the merits of the case, but it effectively shuts down any hope Black voters in Louisiana had of gaining representation for the midterm elections.

U.S. District Court Judge Shelly Dick, of Louisiana’s Middle District in Baton Rouge, planned to set in place a new map of Louisiana’s U.S. House districts Wednesday as one of her final orders in the redistricting lawsuit, Robinson v. Ardoin. A group of Black voters brought and won the lawsuit against the Louisiana Legislature and Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, the state’s top election official.

On June 6, Dick had ruled that the Republican-dominated Legislature adopted a map in March that tilted elections in favor of white conservative candidates. Louisiana’s population had grown to be one-third Black, according to the 2020 Census, but GOP lawmakers refused to give Black voters a second congressional seat out of the state’s six U.S. House districts. 

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The defendants appealed Dick’s ruling and asked for a stay from the conservative-stacked 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. An appellate panel refused to stay the judge’s order, saying the defendants were unlikely to win on the merits of the case. Meanwhile, a separate 5th Circuit panel was scheduled to consider the merits of the appeal on July 8.

With the district court scheduled to enact a new map Wednesday, the appellate hearing would have come too late, so the defendants asked the Supreme Court to stay the ruling. 

NAACP Legal Defense Fund attorney Jared Evans, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Black voters, did not expect the Supreme Court to make its decision so quickly after the defendants filed their stay request 10 days ago.  

The Supreme Court’s conservative majority has a recent history of undoing similar Voting Rights Act cases. Justices stayed a similar lower court ruling for Alabama’s congressional map in February without ruling on the merits. Although the Supreme Court did not combine the Louisiana case with Alabama’s, the two are very similar. The prevailing justices reasoned that there was too little time — three months — for Alabama officials to plan their primary election under a new map.  

Evans and many voting rights activists were confident in Louisiana’s case, which appeared stronger on many points, including the fact that Louisiana’s election is not until the end of the year, precluding justices from giving the “too little time” reason. But the justices blocked it nonetheless, giving no reason for their decision. 

Evans, for the first time since filing the lawsuit, declined to comment when contacted by the Illuminator.

The stay order for Louisiana will remain in effect until the justices decide on the merits of the Alabama lawsuit, which should be no later than next June.

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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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