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Both parties push for Louisiana’s second majority-Black congressional district

Gov. Jeff Landry shakes hands with representatives while entering the House chamber during the first day of a special session on Monday, Jan. 15, 2024, in Baton Rouge, La.
Michael Johnson/AP
Pool The Advocate
Gov. Jeff Landry shakes hands with representatives while entering the House chamber during the first day of a special session on Monday, Jan. 15, 2024, in Baton Rouge, La.

This story was originally published by the Louisiana Illuminator.

On the first day of a federal court-ordered redistricting special session, which also fell on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Louisiana’s elected officials appeared to adopt a motto from the civil rights leader.

“It’s never the wrong time to do the right thing,” King said in a 1964 speech.

Democrats and most Republicans, including Gov. Jeff Landry, seemed to be on the same page about what the “right thing” is: Drawing a congressional map with two majority-Black districts. But just how to accomplish that goal, and which Republicans will feel the consequences, remains a point of contention the legislature will address, along with other electoral issues, over the course of the next eight days.

In a speech to the legislature Monday, Landry urged lawmakers to draw a map that complies with federal court rulings in a lawsuit Black voters brought against state leaders two years ago. In November, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the legislature to draw a new map with two majority-Black congressional districts or face a trial on the merits of the map with one such district they approved in 2022. That would likely result in U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick, an appointee of President Barack Obama, redrawing districts without regard to Republicans’ political concerns.

“We have exhausted all legal remedies,” Landry told legislators. “Take the pen out of the hand of a non-elected judge.”

In comments to reporters, Landry said he had not yet seen the final version of the map he will support. It was filed late Monday by Sen. Glen Womack, R-Harrisonburg.

Womack’s bill turns the 6th Congressional District, currently held by U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, into the second majority-Black district. Its boundaries, which create what’s sometimes referred to as a “slash map,” stretch from Caddo Parish in northwest Louisiana down a sliver west of the Mississippi River to East Baton Rouge Parish.

A proposal from Sen. Glen Womack, to create a majority Black district that stretches from Caddo Parish to East Baton Rouge Parish.
Screen capture
Louisiana Illuminator
A proposal from Sen. Glen Womack, to create a majority Black district that stretches from Caddo Parish to East Baton Rouge Parish.

Under Womack’s proposal, the new new congressional district six would have a 56.16%

Black population and a Black voting age population of 53.74%. The new congressional district two would have a 53.12% Black population and a Black voting age population of 51.01%.

Womack said his primary goal was to protect U.S. Rep. Julia Letlow, R-Monroe, the Louisiana delegation’s only woman, as well as U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson.

Some Louisiana legislators have expressed a reluctance to lose the state’s only woman in Congress, and Graves’ actions on the national stage did not endear him to state lawmakers who hold the fate of his seat in their hands. Womack said eliminating Graves’ safe seat was not a consideration when he filed his bill.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuits against the original map prefer versions two Democrats — Sen. Ed Price of Gonzales and Rep. Denise Marcelle of Baton Rouge — have put forward. They maintain more compact boundaries and turn Letlow’s 5th Congressional District into a majority-Black one.

Both Price and Marcelle’s proposals have the same configurations. The 2nd Congressional District would have a 53.573% Black population with a 51.4% Black voting age population, while the 5th District would have a 54.66% Black population with a 52.03% Black voting age population.

Public Service Commissioner Davante Lewis, D-Baton Rouge, said he preferred the Price and Marcelle maps but would not object to the Womack plan if performance analyses indicated the districts would get the preferred candidates of Black voters elected, as is the intention of a majority-Black district.

While the shape of the Womack map might fail the “eyeball test,” Lewis said it’s still a reasonable proposal if it meets other redistricting requirements — such as keeping communities of interest together.

If the legislature approves the Landry-backed map, plaintiffs have the option of challenging it in court.

Even with a Republican governor backing it, Womack’s proposal faces hurdles. In the next week, legislators need to pass it from a Senate committee to the full Senate, then from a House committee to the House floor. If there are any changes on the House side, it has to go back to the Senate for concurrence on the amendments.

Some legislators expressed reluctance Monday to go along with the federal court order when Attorney General Liz Murill appeared before the House and Governmental Affairs Committee. Its members, who oversee redistricting and other election proposals, met for a briefing on the 2022 litigation and what it means for the current special session.

Several legislators said they feel the map they approved in 2022 is legal. Rep. Foy Gadberry, R-West Monroe, also said Judge Dick is not qualified to draw a map if it ended up in her hands.

Although Murill ultimately encouraged legislators to draw a map that complies with the court’s instructions, she too expressed frustration with the legal process.

“I have complaints about how this case was managed… we should have a trial on the merits,” Murill told legislators.

Committee Chairman Beau Beaullieu, R-New Iberia, expressed concerns after the meeting that frustration among committee members could become a hurdle to approving a map, but he later said he was confident the legislature would approve a proposal with two majority-Black districts.

Womack’s congressional redistricting bill will be heard Tuesday morning in the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee. It’s chaired by Sen. Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge, who is rumored to be interested in running if the state adopted a second majority-Black district.

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