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Gov. Edwards vetoes GOP Congressional maps, citing inadequate minority representation

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Paul Braun / WRKF
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Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed the proposed Congressional maps passed by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature last month after lawmakers failed to create a second majority-Black district, according to a release from his office Wednesday.

Civil rights groups and Democratic state lawmakers have argued that Louisiana, with its 33% Black population, needed two majority-Black Congressional districts to comply with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and that the proposal passed by the legislature last month violated federal law.

Edwards did not comment on the legality of the GOP-backed maps when announcing his veto Wednesday night, but said that the proposal was inherently unfair.

“This map is simply not fair to the people of Louisiana and does not meet the standards set forth in the federal Voting Rights Act,” Edwards said. “The Legislature should immediately begin the work of drawing a map that ensures Black voices can be properly heard in the voting booth. It can be done, and it should be done.”

Edwards announced that he will neither sign nor veto the new maps for the state’s House of Representatives and Senate, which similarly maintained the same number of majority-minority districts. The proposals will become law, despite civil rights groups’ claims that those proposals also violate federal law.

The governor added that his decision to let those maps become law was a practical one. He said he believes lawmakers cannot afford to repeat the lengthy process of redrawing their own districts, taking away from their ability to accomplish other legislative goals during their roughly three-month session.

“The Legislature should be focused on the issues in the upcoming session and not concerned about what their own districts will look like in the 2023 elections,” Edwards said.

Edwards said he plans to sign the state Public Service Commission and Board of Elementary and Secondary Education maps the legislature passed last month.

Sen. Sharon Hewitt (R-Slidell), who sponsored one of the Congressional map proposals vetoed by Edwards, said in a tweet Wednesday that she was disappointed in Edwards’ decision, and she was confident that the map was legal.

“I look forward to the debate on a veto override,” Hewitt added.

Legislative leaders passed two identical Congressional map proposals during the redistricting session, presumably to give themselves two chances to override Edwards’ veto. Last summer, they were unsuccessful in the legislature’s first veto override attempt in nearly 30 years.

Edwards secured enough support in the House to sustain his veto of a bill that would have banned transgender girls from school athletics. The vote was considered then to be a test of whether Edwards could successfully veto redistricting proposals, which would shape the state’s electoral districts for the next ten years.

State lawmakers would not have to call a veto override session as they did this summer. They can attempt a veto override at any point during the regular legislative session that begins Monday.

Rep. John Stefanski, Hewitt’s counterpart in the House, has already filed a Congressional map proposal that lawmakers could advance if their veto override attempts are unsuccessful.

Attorney Jared Evans with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund praised Edwards’ veto of the Congressional maps.

“The governor got it right,” Evans said. “He’s on the right side of history here. The Congressional map passed by the legislature was not only illegal, but it was unfair and blatantly racist.”

Evans, whose organization has indicated that it would sue if the GOP maps become law, said he is not surprised at Hewitt and other legislative leaders’ eagerness to override Edwards’ veto.

“They’ve conducted themselves from the very beginning of this process as if they couldn’t wait to override the governor’s veto and couldn’t wait to get into court,” Evans said in response to Hewitt’s tweet.

“We’ll be ready,” he added.

Rep. Royce Duplessis (D-New Orleans) and Sen. Cleo Fields have each filed Congressional map proposals that would create the second majority-Black district that civil rights groups say is required. Both maps would shift the largely Black voting populations of north Baton Rouge and portions of Lafayette into the 5th Congressional District.

Read Edwards’ full statement on his veto of the Congressional maps here.

Paul Braun is WRKF's Capitol Access reporter.