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Reports on Louisiana politics, government and the people shaping state policy

GOP congressional maps to be used in midterms after SCOTUS pauses Louisiana redistricting lawsuit

West face of the United States Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C.
West face of the United States Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C.

The United States Supreme Court intervened in the legal battle over Louisiana’s disputed congressional redistricting proposals Tuesday, pausing a federal civil rights lawsuit and ordering the state to use its controversial status-quo district maps when voters head to the polls this November.

The High Court issued the one-page ruling from its shadow docket just one day before a federal district court judge in Baton Rouge was scheduled to impose a new congressional map that included the second majority-Black district that she and civil rights groups have said the state needs to comply with the federal law.

The order came with no signatures and no explanation of the majority’s reasoning. It pauses the pending lawsuit until the Supreme Court rules in a similar redistricting case out of Alabama. Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, the three liberals on the court, dissented.

The redistricting debate in Louisiana has boiled down to one fundamental question: does the state, with its six congressional districts and 33% Black population, need a second majority-Black district to comply with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act — the provision of federal law that prohibits the dilution of minority groups’ political power through gerrymandering?

Black state lawmakers, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards and civil rights groups all said yes.

The state’s overwhelmingly Republican legislature disagreed and passed a congressional redistricting proposal earlier this year that largely maintained the makeup of the state’s congressional districts and packed Black voters in Baton Rouge and New Orleans into a single district where they stood a chance of electing the candidate of their choice. When Edwards vetoed their map, GOP lawmakers executed the state’s first veto override in nearly 30 years to force the map back into place.

A coalition of civil rights groups led by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund filed suit on behalf of a collection of Black Louisiana voters.

U.S. District Court Judge Shelly Dick sided with the plaintiffs. In a 157-page ruling issued earlier this month, she said the state’s Black population was large enough and compact enough to create a new majority-Black district and that failing to do so would unfairly disadvantage Black voters.

She ordered the state legislature back into a special session to draw a new map with two majority-Black districts earlier this month. When GOP legislative leaders refused and the special session collapsed, Dick said the court would draw its own maps that met that requirement.

A hearing was scheduled for Wednesday, June 29, and Dick was expected to impose her own map that day.

The Supreme Court’s action prevents that from happening.

Louisiana Rep. Vincent Pierre (D-Lafayette), chairman of the state’s legislative Black Caucus, said he was “disheartened” by the court ruling.

“We maintain that the current map is an obvious violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, and with this decision, we will be forced to continue forward into the next election with this map in place, having one minority district,” Pierre said. “It is our hope that the Court will come to rule in our favor to resolve the issue of underrepresentation for minorities in our state."

In a statement issued Tuesday, Edwards said that the ruling was “more than a little disappointing.”

“The District Court’s well-reasoned 157-page decision clearly demonstrated that the maps passed by the legislature do not comply with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act,” Edwards wrote.

“As I have always maintained, it's about simple math, basic fairness, and the rule of law.”

Edwards noted that the district maps drawn by Black state lawmakers were more compact and better adhered to other redistricting principles than the GOP-backed map that the Supreme Court locked into place for the next two years.

Paul Braun was WRKF's Capitol Access reporter, from 2019 through 2023.