Louisiana must finalize new voting map by January, federal appeals court says

A federal appeals court on Friday agreed with a lower court’s ruling that Louisiana’s latest congressional map likely violated the Voting Rights Act by undermining the power of black voters and ordered the state to finalize the new map by Jan. 15.

The decisionissued by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, says the state Legislature should complete a new set of voting districts in time “for the results to be used for Louisiana’s 2024 congressional elections.”

Louisiana is one of several Republican-led Southern states mired in legal battles as they face accusations of racial discrimination on their electoral maps.

In June, the Supreme Court ruled that Alabama violated the Voting Rights Act by reducing the power of black voters in its redistricting process. Last month, a federal judge ruled that Georgia did the same, ordering that a new map be drawn in time for the 2024 election.

The Fifth Circuit’s ruling on Friday pointed to the Supreme Court’s decision and said “we now apply the court’s reasoning to the Louisiana redistricting.”

Jeff Landry, the state’s Republican governor, was expected to call a special legislative session to address the issue. But Mr. Landry will not be inaugurated until Jan. 8, making it unclear whether lawmakers will have enough time to decide on the new map before the Jan. 15 deadline. He could not immediately be reached for comment Friday.

It was unclear whether outgoing Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, would call a special session before the end of his term. “I remain confident that we will have a fair map with two majority black districts before next year’s congressional elections,” he said in a statement.

After the 2020 census, all states were required to redraw their congressional districts to account for changes in their population. By one measure, the census showed that Louisiana’s black population, which makes up nearly a third of the state, has grown by 3.8 percent in the past decade, while white residents have declined by 6.3 percent. About a third of the state’s population is black.

But the Republican-led Louisiana Legislature adopted a map that includes only one majority-black congressional district of the state’s six.

In March 2022, Governor Edwards vetoed the map, saying it “violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and is still inconsistent with the principle of fundamental fairness that should have driven this process.”

The Legislative Assembly overrode the veto of Mr. Edwards, prompting a coalition that included the Louisiana State Conference of the NAACP, the Power Coalition for Equality and Justice and nine Louisiana voters to challenge him.

Last summer, a federal judge in Louisiana ruled that the map was racially skewed and ordered lawmakers to create a second district with a majority of black voters.

Even so, Louisiana’s disputed map was used in the 2022 election because of a legal doctrine that judges should not change election procedures too close to Election Day.

Black voters in the state traditionally support Democrats; Another majority-black district could tip the scales in that party’s favor and change the balance of power in Congress, where Republicans control the House by only a slim majority.

If Louisiana lawmakers can’t approve a new map by the January deadline, the Fifth Circuit judges wrote, then a lower district court should hold a trial and “decide the plan for the 2024 election.” Legislators would have no say in the court-made map.

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