After court order, Louisiana lawmakers poised to draw new legislative districts

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(The Center Square) — Louisiana must produce new state House and Senate districts within a “reasonable period of time” after a federal judge found they violated the Voting Rights Act.

Baton Rouge-based U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick, appointed by President Barack Obama, wrote in her ruling last week in Nairne v. Ardoin that “the preponderance of the evidence establishes that the enacted state house and senate maps crack or pack large and geographically compact minority populations such that Black voters in the challenged districts ‘have less opportunity than other members of the electorate to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice.'”

The case was filed by Black voters, the Louisiana NAACP, and Black Votes Matter against state officials over legislative maps crafted by lawmakers in 2022 they claim illegally dilute Black voting power. Plaintiffs want the state to add six Black majority House districts and three Black majority Senate districts to what’s currently 29 of 105 Black majority districts in the House and 11 of 39 in the Senate.

Republicans need at least 70 members in the House and 26 in the Senate to maintain their supermajorities in both chambers. Lester Duhe, press secretary for Attorney General Liz Morrill, wrote in an email to The Center Square that “it’s too early on our end” to discuss the next steps.

Dick wrote the current numbers don’t jibe with a voting age population in Louisiana that’s 33% Black, pointing to “illustrative plans” from the plaintiffs that show more Black majority districts are possible. She did not specify a number of districts needed to comply with federal law, a timeline for redrawing the districts, or a deadline for them to take effect. Lawmakers elected under the current maps are expected to serve until 2027.

“The impact of this victory cannot be overstated,” Nora Ahmed, ACLU of Louisiana legal director, said in a statement. “Representation at the state level has an enormous impact on the daily lives of all Louisianans, and fair representation in the Louisiana Legislature is paramount. We are extremely pleased that the court has ruled in favor of minority voters who were actively having their voices silenced by their elected officials, and we will continue to fight on their behalf.”

Dick wrote Black voters are “unnecessarily concentrated” in Senate Districts 15 and 39, with Black voting age populations “well over 50%.” Black voters were also “unjustifiably fragmented” in Senate Districts 5, 7, 8, 10, and 19, which cover the New Orleans-Metaire metropolitan area.

Dick also agreed the Black voting age population is heavily concentrated in House Districts 2 and 4, covering Caddo Parish, with percentages in the 60s and 70s.

“There is certainly an opportunity to disperse the Black population into at least one additional district in this region,” she wrote.

Other areas cited include the Baton Rouge metropolitan area and the Lake Charles region.

Dick also addressed Black voter suppression, which she wrote “continues in the form of closing polling places, restricting access to polling places, restricting access to early voting, and limiting mail-in voting.”

Dick’s order enjoins Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 14, the legislative vehicles for the House and Senate districts, and gives the court leeway to set a timeline to remedy the issues.

“The State is hereby permitted a reasonable period of time, to be determined by the Court following submittals by the parties, to address the Court’s findings and implement State House and Senate election maps that comply with (Section 2) of the Voting Rights Act,” Dick wrote.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs have said 30 days should be enough time to craft new maps, and are advocating for new elections this fall. Requests for comment from the plaintiffs were not returned by press time.

Senate President Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, has said he’d prefer to address redistricting during the regular session rather than a special session. Lawmakers crafted a new congressional map with an additional Black-majority district during an extraordinary session in January following a similar ruling from Dick. They’re slated to meet for a second extraordinary session to address crime that will run from Feb. 19 through March 6.

The regular session is slated to convene on March 11.

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