Civil rights groups sue to overturn Louisiana’s congressional map. But will they prevail before the midterms? | legislature
Minutes after the Louisiana Legislature overrode Gov. John Bel Edwards’ veto of a congressional map that he had labeled an egregious violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a coalition of civil rights groups filed a lawsuit in federal court arguing that the newly drawn districts illegally dilute the voting power of Black residents .
The congressional map enacted Wednesday by a supermajority of White lawmakers maintains the status quo of one majority-Black district out of six, despite the fact that one-third of Louisiana’s population identifies as Black.
The lawsuit filed in Baton Rouge federal court demands that new, “fair” boundaries be drawn that give Black voters the opportunity to elect their candidate of choice in two of the state’s six congressional districts.
But given recent rulings from the United States Supreme Court, it’s unlikely the legal challenge in Louisiana will lead to a new map ahead of November’s midterm elections, according to Michael Li, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice in New York City.
Take what happened in Alabama: a three-judge panel there ruled in January that the state’s congressional map likely violated the Voting Rights Act for failing to include a second majority-Black district.
Black people make up 27 percent of Alabama’s population, but under the map passed by the Republican-dominated Legislature have control over just 14 percent—or one of seven—of the state’s congressional districts. The district court ordered Alabama to draw a new map before the 2022 election.
Complaint in Robinson, et al., vs Ardoin, et al., filed by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in Baton Rouge federal court on March 30, 2022
However, in February, the US Supreme Court’s conservative majority stayed the lower court’s order, saying it came too close to the start of absentee voting in Alabama’s primary election. The court agreed to hear the Alabama case on its merits in its next term, and in the interim, it ordered Alabama to conduct its congressional elections with the existing map.
Li said a district court in Baton Rouge may be “reluctant” to issue a ruling on Louisiana’s maps given that the Supreme Court is going to hear a “very similar Alabama case that will have a lot to say about what the Voting Rights Act means. ”
He pointed to a ruling from a federal judge in Georgia, who determined that certain aspects of that state’s congressional map likely violated the Voting Rights Act but ordered that it remain in place for the midterm election so as not to cause disruption.
But attorneys with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which is suing over Louisiana’s congressional redistricting, aren’t ruling out the possibility that the maps will be redrawn ahead of the midterms.
Victoria Wenger, an LDF attorney, pointed out that the election timetables are different in Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana. The congressional primary in both Alabama and Georgia is on May 24. In Louisiana, with its jungle primaries, it’s on November 8.
Get the Louisiana politics insider details once a week from us. Sign up today.
“We’re exploring all options and certainly don’t see why a remedy couldn’t be imposed in 2022,” Wenger said.
Li said no matter what happens, a map will need to be in place by the middle of September, when ballots are sent out by mail. “That only gives you about five months to resolve the case,” he said.
The lawsuit filed Wednesday argues that the new congressional map continues Louisiana’s “long history of maximizing political power for White citizens by disenfranchising and discriminating against Black Louisianans.”
It notes that while Black residents make up 31.2 percent of the state’s voting age population, Black voters control around 17 percent – or one of six – of the state’s congressional districts.
Meanwhile, white voters, who make up 58 percent of the population, form a majority in 83 percent – or five of six – districts.
“I cannot imagine there’s a more compelling case for the courts to look at and overturn than the congressional map here in Louisiana,” Edwards said at a press conference Wednesday following the override.
This time, Republican lawmakers triumphed.
Decades ago, the US Supreme Court established a three-part test to determine whether a districting plan violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. First, plaintiffs must prove that the minority population is “sufficiently large and geographically compact” to support a map with a second majority-minority district.
Next, they must prove that Black voters are “politically cohesive” and that White voters tend to vote as a bloc to defeat candidates preferred by Black voters. In essence, the courts are asking whether voting is racially polarized, or in simpler terms, whether Black and White voters in Louisiana consistently vote for opposing candidates.
The 55-page lawsuit challenging Louisiana’s maps walks through the three-part test, noting that Democrats proposed several maps that are more compact and provide for two majority-Black districts.
But with the Supreme Court scheduled to hear Alabama’s case next term, additional tests could be added, Li said.
“This is a court that seems very skeptical about the use of race in American life generally, including in redistricting, and they clearly want to say something about when it is and is not appropriate,” Li said.