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Louisiana House follows Senate, approves its own congressional map with 1 Black district

 Louisiana State Capitol
Alex C. Balla
/
Louisiana State Capitol

The Louisiana House of Representatives voted Thursday to approve a congressional map backed by Republican legislative leaders that includes only one majority-Black congressional district, two days after the Louisiana Senate approved a similar measure.

With Thursday’s vote, both the House and Senate have approved GOP-backed proposals that would maintain the status quo in the state’s congressional districts, despite Democrats’ objections and civil rights groups’ claims that such maps underrepresent Louisiana’s 33% Black population and violate the Voting Rights Act.

Before the vote,the Republican-controlled House and Governmental Affairs Committee rejected five proposed congressional maps from Democratic representatives that would have added a second majority-Black congressional district.

To this point, the House and Senate committees at the center of the redistricting process have rejected every single map proposal that would have increased minority representation in the state’s congressional districts — a total of nine proposed congressional maps, all sponsored by Democrats.

Jared Evans, policy counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, said the pattern of votes has shown the GOP’s unwillingness to seriously consider proposals that groups like his have said would be necessary to avoid a costly legal battle.

“They’ve made it very clear that they have a preference for litigation,” Evans said of the Republican lawmakers who voted overwhelmingly to advance HB1, the map proposed by House Speaker Clay Schexnayder (R-Gonzales).

“I don’t think there’s a single person in this building who doesn’t know where we’re headed right now, and that’s where we’re headed,” Evans added.

Recent committee meetings and floor debates have taken on the tone of depositions, with lawmakers from either side of the aisle and civil rights groups clearly establishing a record that may later be used in court.

Under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, the first step of any legal challenge of HB1 or SB5, the Senate leadership’s proposed congressional map, is to prove that Louisiana’s Black population is suffciently large and geographically compact enough to support a second majority-Black congressional district.

Victoria Wenger, an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, said the dozens of proposals submitted by Democrats since the session began last week have done that.

“What’s been established on the record since the beginning of the roadshow is that it’s possible to create a second majority-minority district that is compact, that is able to keep precinct lines together and keep parish lines together more effectively than HB1 or SB5,” Wenger said. “So, when you look at any other objective principles that are considered during the redistricting process, you take almost anything else into consideration and still get a majority-Black district.”

But GOP lawmakers have argued that creating a second-majority Black congressional district doesn’t take into account the state’s traditional electoral boundaries.

When presenting HB1 to lawmakers on the House floor, Speaker Pro Tem Tanner Magee (R-Houma) said that’s what guided the map drawing effort undertaken by House Speaker Clay Schexnayder (R-Gonzales) and Rep. John Stefanski (R-Crowley), chairman of the House’s map drawing committee.

“My approach, the Speaker’s approach, on this bill was to honor the traditional boundaries of the congressional districts,” Magee said. “I believe that it represents the traditional communities of interest in Louisiana.”

Evans, who is Black, said “tradition” has a different meaning for Black Louisianans and is a problematic principle for the GOP to place at the center of the redistricting effort.

“Tradition, in Louisiana for people who look like me, means oppression,” Evans said. “Tradition has produced Black voters in Louisiana with greater socioeconomic disparities than anywhere in the country, worse health outcomes, educational attainment, employment — every category you look at. So, if you want to see change, tradition is going to have to change."

Magee deflected several questions from Democratic lawmakers specifically concerned that the bill would not comply with the Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits states from drawing district lines that dilute or diminish the political power of racial minority groups.

Republican state lawmakers in the House also rebuffed Democrats’ efforts to resurrect their failed congressional maps through extensive sets of floor amendments. The chamber voted overwhelmingly to kill amendments from Rep. Denise Marcelle (D-Baton Rouge) and Rep. Randal Gaines (D-LaPlace) that would have overhauled the GOP’s map and shifted voters in predominantly-Black north Baton Rouge into the 5th Congressional District to create a second majority-minority district.

The measure cleared the Republican-controlled chamber on a 70-33 vote with Rep. Joe Marino (I-Gretna), Rep. Malinda White (I-Bogalousa) and Rep. Francis Thompson (D-Delhi) voting with the chamber’s Republican majority.

The measure will now move to the Senate, where it will first be considered by members of the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee. The House and Governmental Affairs Committee is also scheduled to consider the Senate leadership’s congressional map proposal early next week.

Copyright 2022 WRKF. To see more, visit WRKF.

Paul Braun is WRKF's Capitol Access reporter.

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