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Supreme Court lets Louisiana use congressional map with new majority-Black district in 2024 elections

Supreme Court OKs Louisiana congressional map
Supreme Court lets Louisiana use new congressional map in upcoming election 02:12

Washington — The Supreme Court on Wednesday said it will allow Louisiana to use for the 2024 elections a congressional map that includes a second district where the majority of voters are Black, giving them the opportunity to elect their favored candidate.

The justices granted two separate requests — one from a group of Black voters and civil rights groups and the second from the state of Louisiana — to put on hold a decision from a three-judge federal district court panel that blocked Louisiana from using the newly redrawn map in any upcoming election.

The district lines were crafted and approved by the GOP-led legislature in January after federal courts rejected an initial congressional map adopted in March 2022 for likely violating Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. 

The court appeared split along ideological lines. Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan said they would deny the requests for a stay. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson dissented, writing that she would have let a remedial process before the district court play out before considering whether emergency intervention was warranted.

The Supreme Court's decision is a victory for Democrats, who are likely to pick up another seat in Louisiana under the recrafted congressional lines. It is also the latest development in a long-running legal battle over the state's House district boundaries that began after the 2020 Census, which kicked off the redistricting process.

Louisiana's congressional map

The first map adopted by Republican state lawmakers in 2022 consisted of five majority-White congressional districts and one majority-Black district, though roughly one-third of the state's population is Black. The group of Black voters and civil rights groups challenged that plan's legality, arguing it diluted the voting strength of Black residents in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick agreed with the challengers and issued an injunction blocking the state from conducting any elections under the 2022-drawn lines. She then gave state lawmakers the opportunity to come up with a new map that included an additional majority-minority congressional district.

While proceedings in the case continued, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Black voters who challenged the congressional voting lines in Alabama and upheld a lower court decision that found that map likely violated Section 2. 

On the heels of that decision, the high court cleared the way for Louisiana to move forward with redrawing its congressional map as ordered by Dick. A federal appeals court later gave state lawmakers until Jan. 15, 2024, to adopt the new redistricting plan that included the second majority-Black district.

Gov. Jeff Landry, a Republican who took office in January, convened a special session of the state legislature to craft the new voting boundaries, and the map with the two majority-Black districts was adopted that month.

Gov. Jeff Landry speaks during the start of the special session in the House Chamber on Monday, Jan. 15, 2024, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Gov. Jeff Landry speaks during the start of the special session in the House Chamber on Monday, Jan. 15, 2024, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Michael Johnson / AP

The new congressional redistricting plan aimed to protect certain Republican incumbents, including House Speaker Mike Johnson, Majority Leader Steve Scalise and Rep. Julia Letlow, at the expense of Republican Rep. Garret Graves, according to court filings. Graves, who represents the 6th Congressional District, had supported Landry's GOP opponent in the gubernatorial race and did not publicly back Scalise's run for House speaker last year.

Under the map, the reconfigured District 6, drawn to create the additional majority-minority district, stretches from Shreveport in the northwest corner of Louisiana to Baton Rouge in the southeast. It connects predominantly Black populations from Shreveport, Alexandria, Lafayette and Baton Rouge.

Shortly after the new map was signed by the governor, a group of 12 voters, who describe themselves as "non-African-American," challenged it as a racial gerrymander in violation of the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. They claimed the state drew its six congressional districts predominantly based on race and created the two majority-Black districts "without regard for any traditional redistricting criteria."

But those who back the new redistricting plan, including the Black voters and civil rights groups involved in the challenge to the initial 2022 map and Republican officials, have argued that lawmakers sought to comply with Section 2 — as required by Dick's order — while also working to accomplish their political goals.

Still, the three-judge district court panel issued a divided decision last month that blocked the latest GOP-drawn congressional map from being used in any election after finding it to be an unconstitutional racial gerrymander.

The two judges in the majority, Judges David Joseph and Robert Summerhays, agreed that race was the predominant factor that drove the state's decision-making when crafting the boundaries of the second majority-Black district, District 6. They declined to weigh in on whether it is feasible to craft a second majority-Black district that would comply with the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause, but added that "Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act never requires race to predominate in drawing congressional districts at the sacrifice of traditional districting principles."

The civil rights groups, Black voters and state Republican officials asked the Supreme Court to put the panel's ruling on hold and allow it to use the new map for upcoming elections. While the lower court judges had set an early-June deadline for voting lines to be redrawn, the state argued it needed to know by May 15 which map to use in the November congressional elections.

In their bid for emergency relief from the justices, the voters and civil rights organizations said the panel's divided ruling "deprives the legislature of the flexibility needed to remedy an identified VRA violation in accordance with its own policy priorities." They said it would be "incongruous" if purposefully creating an additional majority-minority district to remedy a violation of Section 2 constituted impermissible racial gerrymandering. 

"In the district court's view, and contrary to this court's precedents, once the legislature concluded that it must consider race to comply with the VRA, any other considerations that entered its redistricting calculus were necessarily subordinate to race. That is reversible error," lawyers for the voters and groups said.

In their request for emergency relief, Louisiana officials lamented that just days before Secretary of State Nancy Landry needs to start implementing a congressional map for the 2024 elections, "Louisiana has no congressional map."

"Louisiana's impossible situation in this redistricting cycle would be comical if it were not so serious," they wrote in their filing to the justices.

The Republican state officials warned that the upcoming contests risk being thrown into disarray amid the competing court orders, which pit the Voting Rights Act rulings, which required the adoption of a second majority-Black district, against the panel's April decision, which found that doing so violated the Equal Protection Clause.

"This absurd situation is an affront to Louisiana, its voters, and democracy itself. The madness must end," they wrote.

But the group of 12 voters challenging the January map accused Louisiana of imposing a "brutal racial gerrymander" on them and millions of other voters and called the redistricting plan adopted earlier this year "morally repugnant."

"Plain and simple, race as the first criterion the legislature considered, and it was the criterion that could not be compromised," they wrote in a filing to the Supreme Court, citing comments from state lawmakers about the need to draw a second majority-minority district to remedy the likely Voting Rights Act violation.

They also accused the state of manufacturing the May 15 deadline to have a congressional map in place, which the lawyers said is not based on a state law, rule or regulation. 

"The state makes much of its interest in avoiding chaos and protecting the electoral process. But in fact, allowing SB8 to go into effect, despite the district court's final order determining that it is unconstitutional, would only dismantle confidence in the integrity of the electoral process," lawyers for the 12 voters who challenged the January map wrote.

They said that a stay from the Supreme Court, which would allow the newly drawn district lines to be used for the upcoming elections, risks voter confusion and disruption for the 2024 primary.

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