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Congressional map with Gov. Jeff Landry’s backing clears Louisiana Senate

Republican state senator Jeremy Stine talks with Senate president Cameron Henry before the swearing in of the Louisiana state legislature in Baton Rouge, La., Monday, Jan. 8, 2024.
Gerald Herbert
Republican state senator Jeremy Stine, left, talks with Senate president Cameron Henry before the swearing in of the Louisiana state legislature in Baton Rouge, La. on Monday, Jan. 8, 2024.

This story was originally published by the Louisiana Illuminator.

The Louisiana Senate gave its approval Wednesday to a congressional redistricting proposal that increases the number of majority-Black districts to two out of six. Gov. Jeff Landry backs the legislation that faces an end-of-month deadline for approval.

Senate Bill 8, sponsored by Sen. Glen Womack, R-Harrisonburg, turns the 6th Congressional District, which U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, holds, into a majority-Black district that stretches diagonally across the center of the state from Caddo Parish in northwest Louisiana to East Baton Rouge Parish.

The bill was passed with a 27-11 vote, with Republicans accounting for all of the no votes.

A congressional redistricting plan must be approved before the special session ends at 6 p.m. Tuesday to comply with an order from a U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick, who gave the legislature until Jan. 31 to redraw the lines. A version lawmakers passed in 2022, retained a single majority-Black district, led to a lawsuit from a group of Black voters to block its boundaries from taking effect.

According to the 2020 Census, Black voters comprise one-third of the Louisiana electorate. Dick, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, has indicated she will change the map herself if lawmakers don’t do it themselves.

Some Republicans who voted for the map did so reluctantly.

“Unfortunately, we must pass this map before us instead of giving the pen to a heavy handed, Obama-appointed judge who seeks to enforce her will upon us,” Sen. Jeremy Stine, R-Lake Charles, said.

Sen. Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans, pushed back on this notion.

“[The Voting Rights Act] was not just interpreted by one judge, in the Middle District of Louisiana, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama, but also by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that’s made up of judges that were appointed by Republican presidents and the United States Supreme Court that is… made up of justices that were appointed by majority Republican presidents,” Duplessis said.

In December, judges with the 5th Circuit denied an appeal from Republican state officials, the defendants in the lawsuit before Dick, to end the case. The U.S. Supreme Court had previously declined to intervene in the matter.

Some Republican senators who voted against the map objected to how it splits up North Louisiana.

The proposed 6th District stretches deep into the existing 4th Congressional District, held by U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-Shreveport. It removes many of its Black voters and replaces them with a portion of the 5th District, which U.S. Rep. Julia Letlow, R-Monroe, holds. In Womack’s plan, the 4th and 5th remain safe Republican districts.

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

Womack said he tried to protect both North Louisiana incumbents as well as U.S. House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, who represents the 1st District, which includes the Northshore and Republican-majority portion of Orleans and Jefferson parishes.

Congressional maps that plaintiffs in the 2022 redistricting lawsuit prefer did not make it out of committee. The Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee Tuesday killed a bill by Sen. Ed Price, D-Gonzales, killed a proposal that turned Letlow’s district into the second majority-Black district in a substantially more compact configuration. Rep. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge, sponsor of a similar House version, agreed to defer her bill, citing its inevitable demise.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs say they are likely to support the Womack plan if an electoral analysis indicates there are enough Black voters in its proposed majority-Black districts to support candidates of their preference. If the plaintiffs accept the map, it would become law. If they reject it, a trial would be held on whether Womack’s map meets requirements of the Voting Rights Act. If the legislature does not pass a new map, a trial would be held on the merits of the 2022 plan.

No amendments to Womack’s bill were proposed during Senate debate, but changes could come Thursday when Womack’s bill goes before the House and Governmental Affairs Committee.

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