May 23, 2024

On Tuesday, a federal three-judge panel found a proposed map redrawing Lousiana’s congressional boundaries, and creating a second Black-majority district, to be unconstitutional. In a 2-1 decision, the map, created in January through the state’s legislature, was struck down, fueling uncertainty about the congressional lines ahead of November’s elections. 

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A separate federal judge had previously blocked a map from 2022. The earlier configuration upheld a single Black-majority district and five predominantly white districts, despite the state’s population being approximately one-third Black. The Republican Governor Jeff Landry and the Republican state Attorney General Liz Murrill had backed the new map. 

In a social media post on Tuesday evening, Murrill wrote:

I’m still reading the ruling (like everyone else), and will be meeting with my team and the [Lousiana Secretary of State] to discuss next steps. 

We will of course be seeking Supreme Court review. I’ve said all along the Supreme Court needs to clear this up. 

The jurisprudence and litigation involving redistricting has made it impossible to not have federal judges drawing maps. It’s not right and they need to fix it.

The two U.S. District Judges, David Joseph and Robert Summerhays, who rejected the new map, were both appointed by former President Donald Trump. The judges ruled that the latest map violated the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause, arguing that “race was the predominant factor” in the creation of district boundaries.

The case was brought by a group of 12 non-Black Louisiana residents. The plaintiffs argued that the new district was not sufficiently compact, divided key communities of interest, and amounted to a “racial gerrymander.”

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Tuesday’s ruling noted that “outside of south-east Louisiana, the state’s Black population is dispersed,” criticizing the newly proposed predominantly Black district. The majority opinion held:

The unusual shape of the district reflects an effort to incorporate as much of the dispersed Black population as was necessary to create a majority-Black district. 

In the present case, the record reflects that the State could have achieved its political goals in ways other than by carving up and sorting by race the citizens of Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Alexandria, and Shreveport. 

Put another way, the Legislature’s decision to increase the BVAP [Black voting age population] of District 6 to over 50 percent was not required to protect incumbents and supports the plaintiffs’ contention that race was the predominate factor in drawing the district’s boundaries.

The dissent from Judge Carl Stewart, the first Black judge to sit on the bench in the 5th Circut after being appointed by Bill Clinton, argued that the majority opinion did not adequately consider the political factors that influenced the map’s design.

Stewart wrote:

The panel majority is correct in noting that this is a mixed motive case. But to note this and then to subsequently make a conclusory determination as to racial predominance is hard to comprehend.

The ruling positively impacts Representative Garret Graves, a white Republican incumbent whose district was altered by the revised map, while posing a new challenge for State Senator Cleo Fields, a Democrat and former Congressman, who had announced his candidacy in the newly proposed district.

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Separately, Barack Obama-appointed Federal District Judge Shelly Dick in Baton Rouge has determined that the state likely violates the federal Voting Rights Act by dispersing Black voters, who are not part of the majority-Black Congressional District 2, spreading the population among five other districts. The case before Judge Dick in Baton Rouge remains active.

 State election officials press the need for establishing district boundaries by May 15, ahead of candidate registration deadlines. 


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