Judges say they’ll draw new Louisiana election map if lawmakers don’t by June 3

A panel of federal judges who recently threw out a congressional election map giving Louisiana a second mostly Black district said Tuesday the state Legislature must pass a new map by June 3 or face having the panel impose one on the state.

However, voting rights advocates and Republican Attorney General Liz Murrill said they would take an appeal in defense of the new map to the Supreme Court.

“Today, three federal judges who never spent a day running an election have ignored uncontradicted testimony that we need a map by May 15, and once again turned Louisiana’s Congressional elections upside down,” Murrill said an emailed statement.

The latest order from a panel of two federal district judges and an appellate judge said they would begin work on a remedial plan while giving lawmakers a chance to come up with a plan during the current regular Legislative Session, which must end by June 3.

“To be clear, the fact that the Court is proceeding with the remedial phase of this case does not foreclose the Louisiana Legislature from exercising its ‘sovereign interest’ by drawing a legally compliant map,” the judges wrote.

Whatever comes out of the court could impact the makeup of the next U.S. Congress. Given voting patterns, a new mostly Black district would give Democrats the chance to capture another House seat. The map that was recently tossed converted District 6, represented by Republican Rep. Garret Graves, into a mostly Black district. Democratic state Sen. Cleo Fields, a former congressman who is Black, had said he would run for the seat.

U.S. District Judges David Joseph and Robert Summerhays, both of whom were nominated to the bench by former President Donald Trump, said the newest map violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment because “race was the predominate factor” driving its creation. Appellate Court Judge Carl Stewart, a nominee of former President Bill Clinton, dissented.

Tuesday’s order is the latest development in a seesaw court battle that has taken place in two federal court districts and an appeals court.

The state currently has five white Republican U.S. House members and one Black member who is a Democrat. All were elected most recently under a map the Legislature drew up in 2022.

U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick, of Baton Rouge, blocked subsequent use of the 2022 map, saying it likely violated the federal Voting Rights Act by dividing many of the state’s Black residents — about a third of the population — among five districts. A federal appeals court gave lawmakers a deadline earlier this year to act. The Legislature responded with a map creating a new district crossing the state diagonally and linking Black populations from Shreveport in the northwest, Alexandria in the center and Lafayette and Baton Rouge in the south.

The new map could mean the loss of a Republican House seat. But it was backed by Gov. Jeff Landry, Murrill and other Republicans as a way of complying with Dick’s ruling, avoiding a court-drawn map and protecting powerful Republican members of Congress, including House Speaker Mike Johnson and Majority Leader Steve Scalise.

A group of self-identified non-African American voters filed suit against that map, saying it was unconstitutionally drawn up with race as the main factor.

A three-judge panel heard arguments in that case and ruled 2-1 against the map. The same panel issued Tuesday’s ruling.

Whether those judges would approve a map that creates a new mostly Black district is unclear. In their April 30 ruling tossing the new district, they didn’t rule on whether a second minority district could be drawn — but they noted that the state’s Black population is dispersed.

They gave interested parties until May 17 to submit new proposals to the court.

The Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office has said it needs a map in place by May 15 to prepare for the fall elections. The judges noted testimony in past litigation, however, that the office could be prepared if maps were in place by the end of May. The candidate sign-up period is in mid-July.


Republished with permission from The Associated Press.

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