Plaintiffs Aim to Implement New Map for 2024 Elections
BY: WESLEY MULLER
In a significant development, the U.S. Supreme Court has lifted the stay in a Louisiana redistricting case, allowing for the inclusion of a second Black district in the state's congressional map.
The case, known as Ardoin v. Robinson, emerged after Louisiana's Republican lawmakers defied a federal judge's order and adopted a congressional map last year that featured only one majority-Black district. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund and other voting rights organizations filed a lawsuit against Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin and GOP lawmakers on behalf of a group of Black voters.
The Supreme Court's decision follows its recent ruling in a similar case, Allen v. Milligan, which found Alabama's congressional maps racially gerrymandered in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act. Nearly a year ago, the Supreme Court granted a last-minute stay on a lower judge's plan to redraw Louisiana's map.
Jared Evans, an attorney from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund representing the Black voters in the case, expressed his optimism, calling the news "extremely good."
The Supreme Court's order on Monday needs to explain the initial stay. The lawsuit returns to a federal District Court in Baton Rouge and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, where different aspects of the case were considered when the Supreme Court intervened a year ago.
On June 6, 2022, U.S. District Court Judge Shelly Dick, based in Louisiana's Middle District in Baton Rouge, ruled that the Republican-dominated Legislature had adopted a gerrymandered map the previous year, favoring white conservative candidates. Despite the Black population comprising approximately one-third of the state's total population according to the 2020 Census, GOP lawmakers refused to allocate a second congressional seat to Black voters among the state's six U.S. House districts.
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry appealed Judge Dick's ruling and sought a stay from the conservative-leaning 5th Circuit. However, an appellate panel declined to grant the stay, indicating that the Republicans were unlikely to succeed on the case's merits. Simultaneously, another 5th Circuit panel was scheduled to evaluate the appeal's merits on July 8, 2022.
To prevent Judge Dick from implementing a new map including a second Black district, GOP officials requested a stay from the Supreme Court, granted just one day before she planned to draw the new community. The Supreme Court's stay of Louisiana's case on June 28, 2022, removed it from Judge Dick's jurisdiction, effectively ending any hope Black voters had for representation in the 2022 midterm elections.
Last year, the Supreme Court's conservative majority exhibited hostility toward Voting Rights Act cases. In February 2022, the justices stayed a lower court ruling regarding Alabama's congressional map, citing insufficient time for Alabama officials to plan their primary election under a new map.
Legal analysts argue the Louisiana lawsuit is more potent than its Alabama counterpart on several vital points. Even Louisiana Senate President Page Cortez, a Republican from Lafayette and one of the defendants, acknowledged this during a press conference on June 8. Unlike the Alabama case, the time constraint argument could not be applied to Louisiana since the state's election was scheduled for November 2022. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court granted the stay without providing a reason.
At the heart of both cases are the number of congressional districts and the respective states' population demographics based on the 2020 Census. Alabama has seven congressional districts and a minority population of 31%, while Louisiana has six sections and a minority population of 33%, indicating an even higher proportion of minorities than Alabama.
Similar to last year's surprising order, this month's ruling caught many off guard. In Milligan's 5-4 decision, the justices adhered to longstanding precedent, which voting rights activists feared would be further eroded. The judges noted that accepting Alabama's arguments would require disregarding four decades of precedents.
Governor John Bel Edwards responded to the recent Supreme Court decision with a statement reaffirming his stance. "Louisiana can and should have a congressional map that represents our voting population, which is one-third Black," he stated.
The governor emphasized the importance of simple math, fundamental fairness, and adherence to the rule of law, expressing confidence in establishing a fair map shortly. As of now, Senate President Page Cortez, who could not be reached for comment, and the Secretary of State's Office have declined to provide any remarks while the case remains pending.
Jared Evans, the attorney from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, expects that the 5th Circuit will schedule a new hearing for the state's appeal while Judge Dick will resume her work on drawing a new map. The immediate goal is to hold a conference hearing with Judge Dick and strive to implement a new map in time for the 2024 congressional elections. "We find ourselves right back where we were last summer," Evans remarked, highlighting the ongoing efforts to rectify the representation disparities and ensure equitable political outcomes in Louisiana.