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Louisiana Senate spurns new Black-majority Congress district

February 9, 2022 GMT

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A proposed new congressional district map that would create a second mostly Black district was rejected Tuesday by Louisiana’s Senate, which instead approved a map that looks very similar to the current configuration.

Sen. Cleo Fields, a Baton Rouge Democrat, offered an amendment that would have altered the 5th Congressional District, now represented by Rep. Julia Letlow, a white Republican.

Like the current district, the 5th District envisioned by Fields would have stretched from the Arkansas state line in northeast Louisiana, bounded on the east side by the Mississippi River, and reaching into parts of southeast Louisiana. But, it would give up a large swath of rural north Louisiana, which would have become part of the vast, northwest Louisiana-based 4th District. And it would have reached into the Baton Rouge area, picking up more of the Black population.

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“It’s compact, it’s precise and it complies with the law,” Fields said as he pushed his amendment to the bill by Republican Sen. Charon Hewitt of Slidell.

Hewitt insisted that her proposal is actually more likely to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act. She said the slender Black voter majorities created in Fields’ amendment could actually reduce the likelihood of Black candidates being elected in either of the new districts. Backers of the bill said in going into the current special session of the Legislature that they were confident districts such as the one pushed by Fields would result in Black voters electing the candidate of their choice.

The special session was called to redraw government district maps to account for populations shifts reflected in the 2020 Census, which shows north Louisiana losing population in favor of points southward. Lawmakers also are working on new maps for the state House and Senate, the Public Service Commission, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the state Supreme Court.

Fields amendment was defeated, and Hewitt’s bill was approved, 27-12 in the Republican dominated Senate. It goes next to the House, also controlled by Republicans.

If approved, it faces two possible impediments. Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, has not ruled out a veto of a bill that doesn’t include a second so-called majority minority district. A court challenge is also likely, although how successful it could be was thrown into doubt this week when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling and effectively halted halt efforts to create a second mostly Black congressional district in Alabama in time for this year’s election.