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Civil rights groups sue Louisiana over state legislative district maps

Louisiana Legislature
HB14 by House Speaker Clay Schexnayder (R-Gonzales) as it it was approved by the House of Representatives. Feb. 14, 2022

A coalition of civil rights groups led by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and ACLU filed a lawsuit against the state of Louisiana Monday over its newly-passed district maps for the state Senate and House of Representatives, making good on a promise to sue the state for advancing redistricting proposals that failed to increase minority representation.

The plaintiffs allege that the maps passed by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits states from diluting the political power of racial minority groups through the redistricting process.

“The 2021 redistricting cycle presents the State of Louisiana with an opportunity to rectify its long, ugly history of denying Black Louisianans meaningful opportunity to participate in the State’s politics through the election of candidates of their choice,” the lawsuit said. “Unfortunately, the 2022 redistricting plans for the Louisiana House of Representatives and State Senate… continue that shameful record.”

According to the 2020 census, Louisiana’s population is 33%, yet only 26% of its state lawmakers are Black — accounting for 34 of the state’s 144 House and Senate seats.

During last month’s redistricting session, Democratic state lawmakers filed several state House and Senate maps that would increase the number of majority-Black districts in the state, but every proposal that did so was rejected in committee.

“The Louisiana Legislature had the opportunity to ensure our district maps were constitutional, but instead they continued on the path that has led to decades of diluting Black voting power,” Alanah Odoms, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana, said.

“The Louisiana Legislature has attempted to silence Black Louisianans for another decade,” said LDF attorney Victoria Wenger. “Black voters cannot be forced to endure another decade of underrepresentation, which is why it’s so important that a court fix these discriminatory maps before another decade of harm is cemented.”

Republican legislative leaders maintain that each of the redistricting proposals they passed last month complies with federal law.

Gov. John Bel Edwards expressed his disapproval of the congressional and state legislative maps passed last week for their failure to increase minority representation in the state. Edwards vetoed the congressional map proposal but stopped short of issuing vetoes for the state legislative redistricting proposals, allowing the two maps to become law without his signature — a first during his time in office.

Edwards’ justification for allowing the legislative maps to become law was a practical one.

“I do not believe the Legislature has the ability to draw new state House and Senate maps during this upcoming legislative session without the process halting the important work of the state of Louisiana,” Edwards said in a statement.

The case, Nairne v. Ardoin, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana.

Paul Braun is WRKF's Capitol Access reporter.