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

U.S. Supreme Court sends Louisiana redistricting case down to appeals court after Alabama decision

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

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday lifted its hold in a Louisiana redistricting case that could bolster Black voting power in the state. The case was moved to an appeals court that will hear the case ahead of the congressional elections in 2024.

Louisiana’s redistricting case, Robinson v. Ardoin, had been on hold pending the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in a similar case in Alabama, Allen v. Milligan. The U.S. Supreme Court released its decision in that case earlier this month, ruling that Alabama’s congressional district map unfairly dilutes Black voting power and ordering Alabama to draw a second majority-Black district. Both states have had only one majority-Black district, despite up to one-third of the states’ population being made up of Black residents.

The Milligan decision, which came as a surprise from a majority-conservative court, reaffirmed the landmark Voting Rights Act — which prohibits voting practices based on a race — and set a strong precedent that could be applied to the Louisiana case.

Louisiana state officials had tried to get the U.S. Supreme Court to take up its case separate from Alabama’s. Now they will argue in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn a district court ruling from last year that requires a second majority-Black district in Louisiana.

But opponents of Louisiana’s maps are hopeful the appeals court will uphold the lower court’s decision and require a second majority-Black district in Louisiana.

How does the Milligan decision impact the Louisiana congressional redistricting case?

The Milligan decision, which came out on the last day of the Louisiana legislative session, was met with excitement from Louisiana Democrats and voting rights activists who feel that the precedent will directly apply to Louisiana’s redistricting case.

Black residents account for about 27% of the voting age population in Alabama but have only held a majority in one out of seven congressional districts.

Critics of Louisiana’s maps feel there is an even stronger case for a second majority-Black district in Louisiana, where Black residents account for about 33% of the population but only hold a majority in one of the state’s six congressional districts.

“It’s a win for the people of Louisiana,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said of the Milligan decision. “It’s a win for those who believe in the Voting Rights Act. It’s a win for those that believe in simple math. One-third of six is two.”

Republican state officials, however, have said Louisiana’s case has differences from the Alabama case that make the Milligan decision less applicable, prompting Louisiana Solicitor General and candidate for Attorney General Liz Murrill to unsuccessfully submit a request on behalf of the state asking the Supreme Court not to send Louisiana's case back to a lower court.

Murrill said it is impossible for a second majority-Black district to be drawn in Louisiana without splitting the populations from different communities, which she said would also be unconstitutional. She pointed out that a Louisiana congressional map from the 1990s, which included two majority-Black districts, was ruled to be unconstitutionally gerrymandered because one of the majority-Black districts ran from Shreveport to Baton Rouge.

“They are cracking and packing the Blacks into one district, so they can create that majority-minority district, and it has the effect of also bleaching the other districts,” Murrill said. “And that’s unconstitutional.”

But the new proposed map that includes a second-majority Black district is more compact than that map, according to state Sen. Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge. Fields said it is also more compact than the current map.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court sent Louisiana’s case to a lower appeals court, legislative leaders have expressed confidence that the state’s current congressional map can prevail in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has long leaned conservative and became more conservative with the addition of Trump-appointed judges.

But opponents of Louisiana’s maps say the two cases are nearly identical and that the Alabama case sets a strong precedent for the Louisiana case. The Supreme Court’s decision to release Louisiana’s case to an appeals court suggests they view the cases similarly.

The Alabama redistricting decision came from a 6-3 majority-conservative Supreme Court. Chief Justice John Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh joined the three liberal justices in the majority opinion.

Additionally, the Alabama redistricting ruling is expected to impact the state House and Senate maps in Louisiana. The Legal Defense Fund and ACLU brought a case against those maps last year. It has also been under a federal-issued stay pending the Milligan decision.

What are the various outcomes and their impact?

If the appeals court finds Louisiana’s current maps constitutional, the state will continue to implement the same map that only includes one majority-Black district.

But if the court rules these maps unconstitutional, the state will be required to draw a new map with a second majority-Black district. The state could also be required to implement a court-drawn map. Several people, including Edwards, have said that is a likely scenario. The state Legislature failed to draw a map with a second majority-Black district in a special redistricting session last year after a district court ordered lawmakers to redraw the map.

Any adjustment in the map could change the political makeup of Louisiana’s districts. Under the current map, only one congressional district has a solid Democrat rating. The others are consistently Republican. A new map could change the rating for a second district to a toss up or one that leans Democrat.

That change in Louisiana, Alabama and other states could substantially shift the balance of power in the U.S. House of Representatives, where Republicans currently hold a majority by 10 seats.

The Louisiana redistricting case will be heard in the appeals court ahead of the 2024 congressional elections.

Molly Ryan is a political reporter and covers state politics from the Louisiana Capitol.