Louisiana Senators talk during a recess of floor debate on a redistricting map (pictured in background) on Feb. 18, 2022. The map fails to include a second Black district. (Wes Muller/Louisiana Illuminator)
The U.S. Supreme Court lifted its stay in a Louisiana redistricting case, clearing the way to add a second Black district to the state’s congressional map.
The case of Ardoin v. Robinson stems from a congressional map with just one majority-Black district that Louisiana’s Republican lawmakers adopted last year in defiance of a federal judge’s order. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund and other voting rights groups filed the lawsuit on behalf of a group of Black voters against Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, the state’s top election official, and GOP lawmakers.
The decision comes weeks after the justices ruled in a similar case, Allen v. Milligan, that Alabama’s congressional maps were racially gerrymandered in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act and almost a year after they granted a last-minute stay of a lower judge’s plan to redraw Louisiana’s map.
“It’s extremely good news,” said Jared Evans, one of the LDF attorneys who represents the Black voters in the case.
Monday’s order from the Supreme Court includes no explanation for why the justices issued the stay in the first place. It returns the lawsuit both to a federal District Court in Baton Rouge and to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. Different aspects of the case were being considered in those two venues at the time the Supreme Court halted everything a year ago.
On June 6, 2022, U.S. District Court Judge Shelly Dick, of Louisiana’s Middle District in Baton Rouge, had ruled the Republican-dominated Legislature adopted a gerrymandered map in March of last year that tilted elections in favor of white conservative candidates. Louisiana’s Black population had grown to comprise roughly one-third of the total, 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.
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry appealed Dick’s ruling and asked for a stay from the conservative-stacked 5th Circuit. An appellate panel refused to stay the judge’s order, saying the Republicans 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, 2022.
Judge Dick had planned to set in place a new map of Louisiana’s U.S. House districts by June 29, 2022 as one of her final orders in the case. Because the appellate hearing would have come too late, the GOP officials asked the Supreme Court to stay the ruling, which it did just one day before Dick planned to draw a second Black district.
On June 28, 2022, the Supreme Court stayed Louisiana’s case, snatching it out of Dick’s courtroom and shutting down any hope Black voters in Louisiana had last year of gaining representation for the midterm elections.
Last year the Supreme Court’s new conservative majority had demonstrated a hostility towards Voting Rights Act cases. In February 2022 the justices stayed the lower court ruling for Alabama’s congressional map, reasoning that there was too little time — three months — for Alabama officials to plan their primary election under a new map.
According to many legal analysts, the lawsuit in Louisiana was and is stronger on several main points than the one in Alabama. Even one of the defendants, Louisiana Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, agreed with this notion during a recent June 8 press conference.
Louisiana’s election wasn’t until November 2022, precluding justices from giving the “too little time” reason. But the justices stayed it nonetheless, without explaining their reason for the order.
Also, at the core of both cases are the number of congressional districts and each state’s population demographics as recorded in the 2020 Census. Alabama has seven congressional districts and a 31% minority population, while Louisiana has six congressional districts and a 33% minority population — an even larger minority share than Alabama.
Just as last year’s order came as a surprise to many, so did this month’s ruling. In the 5-4 ruling in Milligan, the justices adhered to long-standing precedent that voting rights activists feared was going to be further dismantled. Accepting the State of Alabama’s arguments “would require abandoning four decades of precedents,” the justices wrote in their June 8 order.
On Monday, Gov. John Bel Edwards repeated a version of a statement he has consistently made throughout the lawsuit.
“Louisiana can and should have a congressional map that represents our voting population, which is one-third Black,” the governor said in a statement. “As I have consistently stated, this is about simple math, basic fairness, and the rule of law. I am confident we will have a fair map in the near future.”
Senate President Page Cortez could not be reached for comment Monday morning, and the Secretary of State’s Office declined to comment on the case while it is still pending.
Evans said he expects the 5th Circuit will plan a new hearing for the state’s appeal while Judge Dick will pick back up on where she left off in drawing a new map. The immediate next step is to schedule a conference hearing with Dick and work to have a new map in place for the 2024 congressional elections, he said.
“We’re right back where we were last summer,” Evans said.
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