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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Federal Judges Strike Down Louisiana Congressional Map Over Racial Gerrymandering

A panel of federal judges struck down a recently proposed congressional map in Louisiana, deeming the delineated boundaries, which were designed to establish a second majority Black district, as an “unlawful racial gerrymander” breaching the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The 2-to-1 decision throws into uncertainty the boundaries to be used in upcoming elections, just six months away, which could significantly impact the balance of power in the House of Representatives.

Critics of the ruling, including Eric H. Holder Jr., former U.S. attorney general and current chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, warned of broader implications for voting rights. Holder criticized the decision’s ideological nature and hinted at the possibility of the case advancing to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Louisiana’s attorney general, Liz Murrill, a Republican, expressed her intention to escalate the case to the Supreme Court, emphasizing the need for clarification on the matter.

A hearing to discuss next steps has been scheduled for May 6, while the Louisiana secretary of state has set a deadline of May 15 for finalizing the congressional map.

The disputed map was outlined in January during a special session of the State Legislature after a previous map was deemed to have likely violated the Voting Rights Act by diluting the voting power of Black residents.

However, the new map faced legal challenges from a group of residents who described themselves as “non-African American” voters, arguing that the boundaries segregated voters based solely on their race.

The contested map included a newly created majority Black district that stretches from Baton Rouge to Shreveport, covering a long, narrow swath of the state. The judges ruled that race played a predominant role in shaping the district’s contours, reflecting legislative decision-makers’ explicit intent to create a second majority Black district.

While the ruling acknowledged that other factors, such as protecting incumbents, influenced the redistricting process, it emphasized the disproportionate focus on race.

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Carl E. Stewart argued that the challengers failed to prove a violation of their constitutional rights and contended that political concerns were weighed alongside race.

The decision adds another layer of complexity to Louisiana’s ongoing legal battle over congressional district lines and mirrors similar disputes in other Southern states grappling with accusations of racial discrimination in redistricting efforts.

Louisiana was compelled to redraw congressional districts following the 2020 census, with the Republican-controlled Legislature initially crafting a map that resulted in only one majority Black district, despite the state’s increased Black population.

A federal judge ruled in June 2022 that the map was racially gerrymandered, ordering lawmakers to create an additional district to empower Black voters. However, the disputed map was still used in the 2022 election.

Tuesday’s ruling underscores the continued struggle for fair representation in redistricting processes, with advocates like Ashley Shelton of the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice vowing to persist in their fight for a map that truly reflects the state’s communities and honors the promise of the Voting Rights Act.

Jonathan James
Jonathan James
I serve as a Senior Executive Journalist of The National Era
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