Supreme Court ruling in Louisiana redistricting case creates uncertainty

By: - October 21, 2023 5:00 am
Four versions of Louisiana's congressional redistricting map with half shaded in red and the other half in blue

Louisiana Illuminator illustration

The U.S. Supreme Court this week created an uncertain outlook for Louisiana’s congressional races next year, deciding to let a lawsuit against the state’s new district maps run its course. 

Justices declined to intervene on an unusual ruling from a federal appeals court last month that paused the drawing of new district boundaries to give Louisiana’s Black voters more equitable representation in Congress. 

Thursday’s ruling keeps the lawsuit under review in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. A group of Black voters sued Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin and other state officials to stop the maps the Republican-dominated Louisiana Legislature approved last year. 

NAACP Legal Defense Fund attorney Jared Evans, who is representing the plaintiffs, told the Illuminator the Supreme Court ruling is not a big deal. He plans to proceed with a lower court hearing on Feb. 5, 2024, to have new maps drawn.

The case, Robinson v. Ardoin, stems from a congressional map with just one majority-Black district lawmakers adopted in defiance of federal district court order. Louisiana’s Black population exceeds 30%, which the court said merits a second Black district out of six total. 

In Thursday’s brief ruling with no dissents, the justices denied two requests from the plaintiffs to restart the drawing of the map after the 5th Circuit last month canceled a lower court hearing at which U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick was expected to approve a map containing two majority-Black congressional districts. Louisiana Attorney General and Gov.-elect Jeff Landry had filed a request to stop Dick’s planned hearing, claiming it was rushed in a “clear abuse of discretion.”

Court watchers stressed how unusual it was for an appeals court to approve a request of that nature. Even Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson noted it in her concurring opinion on Thursday’s ruling. 

Nonetheless, the justices declined to intervene, which could jeopardize the creation of a second majority-Black district in time for next fall’s election, though Evans said he remains optimistic.

“Despite all the back and forth and legal maneuvering, we are firmly committed to having a map in place before next year’s elections,” he said. 

Evans pointed out statements Jackson included in her opinion that addressed the issue. 

“First, nothing in our decision not to summarily reverse the Fifth Circuit should be taken to endorse the practice of issuing an extraordinary writ of mandamus in these or similar circumstances,” Jackson wrote. “Second, as we have previously emphasized, this litigation should be resolved ‘in advance of the 2024 congressional elections in Louisiana.’”

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Jackson added that the 5th Circuit’s mandamus ruling requires the lower court to delay the map drawing only until the Louisiana Legislature has had sufficient time to consider alternative maps that comply with the Voting Rights Act, and the legislature has told the Supreme Court it doesn’t plan to consider any alternative maps.

“The State has now represented, in its filings before this Court, that the legislature will not consider such maps while litigation over the enacted map is pending,” Jackson wrote. “Therefore, the District Court will presumably resume the remedial process while the Fifth Circuit considers the State’s appeal of the preliminary injunction.”

In other words, the case will continue along two tracks. The lower court will hold hearings to adopt a new map in the event that the appeals court resolves the case in favor of the plaintiffs. That’s at least the theory. 

The case has traveled a meandering journey of motions, hearings, trials and appeals up and down the federal judicial system — from a lower district court in Baton Rouge to the Supreme Court in Washington D.C. and back again with various stops along the way at the appeals court in New Orleans.

After the initial proceeding last year, Dick ruled that GOP lawmakers violated the federal Voting Rights Act in gerrymandering the map to diminish the voting power of Black residents. Dick originally 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. However, the GOP state officials asked the U.S. 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 U.S. Supreme Court stayed the Louisiana case, snatching it out of Dick’s courtroom and shutting down any hope Black voters had last year of gaining representation for last year’s congressional midterm elections. The results kept five white Republicans and one Black Democrat in the state’s U.S. House delegation. 

The case picked back up when the Supreme Court ruled in a similar redistricting case, Allen v. Milligan, that Alabama’s congressional maps were racially gerrymandered in violation of the Voting Rights Act. It returned the Louisiana lawsuit to Dick’s court in Baton Rouge and the 5th Circuit in New Orleans, with no explanation as to why it had stayed the case. Different aspects of the case were being considered in those two venues at the time the Supreme Court halted everything a year ago.


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Wesley Muller
Wesley Muller

Wes Muller traces his journalism roots to 1997 when, at age 13, he built a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. Since then, he has freelanced for the Times-Picayune and worked on staff at WAFB/CBS, the Sun Herald and the Enterprise-Journal, winning awards from the SPJ, Associated Press, Mississippi Press Association and McClatchy. He also taught English as an adjunct instructor at Baton Rouge Community College. Muller is a New Orleans native, Jesuit High School alumnus, University of New Orleans alumnus and a U.S. Army veteran and former paratrooper. He lives in Southeast Louisiana with his two sons and wife.