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Louisiana GOP asks SCOTUS to reinstate status-quo congressional map for midterm elections

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Paul Braun
/
WRKF
Senate President Page Cortez presents a redistricting proposal to the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee during Louisiana's first redistricting session. February 2, 2022.

The Louisiana Secretary of State and Attorney General asked the U.S. Supreme Court Friday to intervene in the state’s ongoing redistricting debate and block a lower court ruling that requires the state to draw a new congressional map with two majority-Black districts by Monday.

Attorneys for Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, Attorney General Jeff Landry and the state’s Republican legislative leaders argued in a 51-page filing that the order issued by U.S. Judge Shelly Dick of the Middle District of Louisiana “throws the election process into chaos, and creates confusion statewide.”

The applicants drew comparisons to an Alabama redistricting case that the court is scheduled to hear next term, and argued that the two cases should be consolidated or that the court should pause the redistricting process in Louisiana until the other case can be decided.

Doing so would likely result in the state using the controversial maps approved by the legislature for this fall’s midterm elections and delay the resolution of the dispute until the next congressional election cycle.

Democrats and civil rights groups have argued that the state’s 33% Black population deserves at least two congressional districts in which Black voters stand a chance of electing a candidate of their choice.

The Republican-controlled legislature has balked at the idea of drawing a congressional map with a second majority-Black district — an action that would undoubtedly flip a safe Republican seat in Congress to Democratic control. They overwhelmingly approved a congressional map that maintained the status quo of one majority-Black district and five majority-white districts and executed a successful override of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ veto of the bill.

The request comes a day after Judge Dick denied House Speaker Clay Schexnayder’s and Senate President Page Cortez’s request for 10 more days to pass maps that comply with her order.

In her comments from the bench, Dick said the state’s two top lawmakers were being “disingenuous” and “insincere” for asking for an extension of a deadline that they never intended to meet.

On Wednesday, Schexnayder opened the court-ordered special session by going to the House floor to call it “unnecessary” and to claim that the maps Dick struck down were legal and reflected the will of the people of Louisiana.

The House convened for only 90 minutes on Wednesday and didn’t schedule any meetings on Thursday. After an hours-long debate on Thursday, the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee voted to hold two redistricting plans — a proposal from Democratic Sen. Cleo Fields with two majority-Black districts, and a proposal from Republican Sen. Sharon Hewitt with only one majority-Black district — in committee for an additional day.

The committee voted down Fields’ proposal on Friday. Minutes later, the House and Governmental Affairs Committee voted down the only proposal Democrats filed in the House.

Rep. John Stefanski (R-Crowley), chairman of the House committee, delayed consideration of two Republican-sponsored proposals to Saturday.

Slow-walking the bills leaves lawmakers with little time to move new maps through the legislative process before the mandated end of the six-day session.

After holding a week-long trial, Dick issued a 152-page ruling last week declaring the map unconstitutional and ordered the legislature to pass a new map with two majority-Black districts by June 20. If lawmakers fail to do so, the district court would draw a remedial congressional map. That process would begin June 29.

Schexnayder, Cortez and their co-defendants have appealed the ruling to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which agreed to hear arguments in the case July 8, but allowed the court-ordered special session to continue.

In February, a ruling from the Supreme Court’s shadow docket ordered that Alabama reinstate the congressional map drawn by the state’s legislature that a lower court deemed to be in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

The intervention came four months before the state was scheduled to hold party primaries for this fall’s midterm elections and ensured that the controversial map would be used in the 2022 congressional election.

Louisiana, with its open primary system, conducts its congressional elections on a different schedule than Alabama. The qualifying period for candidates in Louisiana is July 20-22. Early voting begins on Oct. 25.

In her 152-page ruling ordering the legislature to draw the congressional map that contains two majority-Black districts, Dick said the state’s unique election schedule gave the state ample time to pass new maps and give voters and candidates enough time to adjust to the new districts, but a lengthy appeals process is expected to complicate matters.

Paul Braun is WRKF's Capitol Access reporter.

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