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Louisiana redistricting case returns to the courtroom

ACLU of Louisiana

A panel of judges from the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals is set to hear oral arguments Friday in the ongoing legal battle over Louisiana’s congressional maps. The hearing marks another step in what has been a months-long process — one that voting rights advocates hope will end with a second majority-Black district in the state.

Louisiana’s current congressional map includes only one district out of six in which a majority of the population is Black. But Black residents account for about a third of the state’s total population.

Last year, U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick found that the current map dilutes Black voting power — and likely violates Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act, which “prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, color or membership in one of the language minority groups.” She ordered the state to stop using the map, and directed the Louisiana Legislature to draw a new map, this time with a second majority-Black district.

But the Legislature failed to draw such a map, and the case has bounced around the court system since then.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court put the case — Ardoin v. Robinson — on hold, pending its decision in a similar case in Alabama. The Supreme Court ruled this summer in the Alabama case that the state’s congressional map violated the federal Voting Rights Act, and ordered Alabama to draw a new map with a second majority-Black district.

That decision, which came largely as a surprise from the mostly conservative court, was met with excitement from Louisiana Democrats and voting rights activists who see the ruling as an even stronger case for a second majority-Black district in Louisiana. Black residents account for about 27% of Alabama’s population — and have only held a majority in one of Alabama’s seven congressional districts. By comparison, Black residents account for about 33% of Louisiana’s population and have only held a majority in one of six congressional districts.

The case continues in the lower courts

After the Alabama decision, the Supreme Court cleared Louisiana’s case to move forward in the lower courts, rejecting the state of Louisiana’s attempt to have its case heard separately by the Supreme Court.

Now, the state of Louisiana and other parties who oppose a new map will argue in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Friday to overturn Judge Dick’s injunction against the Legislature’s current map.

The parties involved will each have about half an hour to argue their case in front of the three judges on the Fifth Circuit panel. A decision from the appeals court is not expected to be issued for several months.

Another hearing on Louisiana’s redistricting case, this one in federal district court — and intended to move the redistricting process forward – was also scheduled for this week. But a separate panel of Fifth Circuit judges voted 2-1 last week to cancel the hearing, further complicating this long-running legal fight and delaying any implementation of a new map.

Voting rights activists and other proponents of a new congressional map have asked the Supreme Court to intervene in that ruling, arguing that the Fifth Circuit inappropriately exercised its power by canceling the district court hearing.

Any adjustment in Louisiana's congressional map could dramatically change the political makeup of the state’s U.S. House of Representatives districts. Under Louisiana’s current map, only the 2nd Congressional District, which encompasses parts of New Orleans and Baton Rouge, leans Democratic.

The new maps that have been proposed would likely have the largest impact on the state’s 5th Congressional District, which covers an area of northeast Louisiana and is represented by Republican Rep. Julia Letlow. Analysts project that proposed changes to the district would shift it to a more heavily Democratic voter base.

That sort of change in Louisiana, Alabama and other states has the potential to substantially shift the balance of power in the U.S. House of Representatives, where Republicans currently hold a narrow majority.

Redistricting is a regular part of the political process, and happens in every state, roughly every decade, when states receive new demographic data from the U.S. Census. States use different systems for drawing their districts. In Louisiana, the state Legislature is responsible for redistricting. Its most recent redistricting session — which prompted the legal case — happened in February 2022.

Other states involved in ongoing redistricting battles include Georgia, Arkansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Kentucky, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina and Utah.

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

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