BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana lawmakers now have until the end of January to draw and pass new congressional boundaries to replace a current map that a federal judge said violates the Voting Rights Act by diluting the power of the state’s Black voters.
However, several questions still linger – including if and when the GOP-dominated Legislature will return to the Capitol and, most of all, if lawmakers will be able to agree on a map.
Baton Rouge-based U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick issued a two-week extension Thursday afternoon, giving lawmakers extra time to construct a congressional map, the American Civil Liberties Union confirmed to The Associated Press. The new redistricting deadline is Jan. 30.
The ACLU is representing the plaintiffs.
Outgoing Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards does not plan on calling lawmakers back to Baton Rouge to draw a new map, spokesperson Eric Holl said Sunday. However, the extension will give incoming Gov.-elect Jeff Landry, a Republican, the chance to call a special redistricting session after being inaugurated Jan. 8 – which he previously vowed to do.
In addition, the outgoing Senate President and House Speaker have the power to convene a special session with the support of a majority of legislators. However, the chamber leaders have shown little interest, saying it may be better to pass the job to incoming lawmakers, The Advocate reported.
Louisiana is among the list of states still wrangling over congressional districts after the U.S. Supreme Court in June ruled that Alabama had violated the Voting Rights Act.
Louisiana’s current GOP-drawn map, which was used in the November congressional election, has white majorities in five of six districts – despite Black people accounting for one-third of the state’s population.
Democrats argue that the map discriminates against Black voters and that there should be two majority-minority districts. Republicans say the map is fair and argue that Black populations in the state are too dispersed to be united into a second majority Black district.
Currently, five of the six districts are held by Republicans. Another mostly Black district could deliver a second congressional seat to Democrats.
The political tug-of-war and legal battle over the congressional map has been going on for more than a year and a half – which has included Edwards vetoing the political boundaries and the Legislature overriding his veto – their first override of a governor’s veto in nearly three decades.
In June 2022, Dick struck down Louisiana’s map for violating the Voting Rights Act. Dick said in her ruling that “evidence of Louisiana’s long and ongoing history of voting-related discrimination weighs heavily in favor of Plaintiffs.” Dick, a Barack Obama appointee, ordered that the map be redrawn to include a second majority-Black district, before it was sent to a federal New Orleans appeals court.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth District set the deadline to complete the new map as Jan. 15. In the courts order, they allowed Dick the discretion to grant “limited additional time” if requested.
Although Landry vowed earlier this month to call a special session, under the original deadline the timing wouldn’t have worked since Landry won’t be inaugurated until Jan. 8 and the session could not have started until seven days later.
If the Legislature does not pass a new map by the extended deadline, then the lower district court will hold a trial and “decide on a plan for the 2024 elections,” according to the higher court’s order. The trial would begin Feb. 5.
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