Congressional maps without new Black district approved
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A special session of the Louisiana Legislature ended Friday in Baton Rouge with new boundary lines drawn for the state’s six-member congressional delegation and the state House and Senate.
The new congressional districts passed by the Republican-dominated Legislature do not include a second majority-Black district sought by voting rights activists.
Soon after the session adjourned, the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus issued a statement calling on Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards to veto the congressional plan. Court challenges to the new congressional districts are also expected from advocates who say they violate the federal Voting Rights Act in a state where about a third of the population is Black.
Edwards issued a statement Friday saying he would closely examine the final maps for Congress and other political bodies before making a decision. “I remain adamant that the maps should reflect the growth of the African American population in our state over the last 10 years, allowing for minority groups to have an opportunity at electing candidates of their own choosing, and I do have concerns that several of the maps do not fulfill that moral and legal requirement,” Edwards said.
Chris Kaiser, with the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, said the Legislature failed to pass maps for itself or Congress that reflected a growth in nonwhite population percentages. “Every map that the Legislature was presented with that would have increased minority representation was summarily dismissed,” he said in an interview.
“Our main call is to the governor now,” Kaiser said. “It’s in his court to veto these maps.”
Lawmakers also passed maps for the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Public Service Commission without increasing minority representation. They were unable to agree on a remapping plan for the state Supreme Court.
The congressional seats are now held by five white Republicans and one Black Democrat. The Democrat was elected from a district that stretches from New Orleans, up the Mississippi River, to Baton Rouge.
Rep. John Stefanski, the Crowley Republican who headed up the remapping effort in the House, said he believes the maps comply with the law and balance a wide variety of factors that must be considered in redistricting. “I took our population, I took the geography of the state, I took our communities of interest, I took the will of the public, the will of the Legislature and I balanced all of that with the law,” Stefanski said on the House floor.
Sen. Sharon Hewitt, a Slidell Republican and a leader in the remapping effort, also defended the plans, insisting that trying to include the state’s widely dispersed Black population in two separate congressional districts would result in two districts with very narrow Black majorities that could result in diminishing Black voter power.
“I think we all have been very committed to making sure that we honored the Voting Rights Act,” Hewitt said.
Voting rights advocates dispute Hewitt’s argument, saying their research shows Black candidates could win in the model districts they have seen.
Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, a Black Democrat from New Orleans, said lawmakers were ignoring growing percentages of minorities in the state. “I would really encourage you to dig deep and do what is morally right,” Peterson said during floor debate Friday.
The future of any court challenge, or a veto, is unclear.
The bills passed the Senate with more than the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto, should Edwards issue one. In the House, the plan got 62 votes Friday afternoon, eight short of what would be needed to override a veto in the 105-member body.
Aside from the disagreements over minority districts, debate reflected some Republicans’ dissatisfaction on narrow issues. A handful of lawmakers were unhappy that the new plan splits central Louisiana’s Grant Parish in two. Others were unhappy that the 3rd District in southwest Louisiana would lose parts of St. Martin and St. Mary parishes to the 6th District.
Edwards, were he to veto the plan, would face the possibility that the House’s 68 Republicans would rally with independents and one or two Democrats to override the veto.
The potential for success for any court challenge became murkier earlier this month — at least in terms of this year’s elections — when the U.S. Supreme Court put on hold a lower court ruling that Alabama must draw new congressional districts before the 2022 elections to increase Black voting power. In a 5-4 ruling, justices Brett Kavanaugh and Samuel Alito, part of the conservative majority, said the lower court’s order for a new map came too close to the 2022 election cycle. The justices will at some later date decide whether the map produced by Alabama violates the Voting Rights Act.
The session was called to redraw political boundary lines to account for population shifts reflected in the 2020 Census, which showed northern parts of the state losing population to the southern areas. It opened Feb. 1 and, with Friday’s final adjournment, ended two days earlier than scheduled.
Louisiana’s population identified as nearly 56% white, more than 31% Black and nearly 7% Hispanic or Latino, according to the 2020 data. A decade earlier, 60% of residents identified as white, 32% as Black and 4% as Hispanic or Latino.
This story was first published on Feb. 18, 2022. It was updated on March 10, 2022, to correct a final vote total and the number of Republicans in the House.