BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Two new seats would be added to the Louisiana Supreme Court, under a measuring nearing final legislative passage Monday that is expected to create at least one new majority-minority district on the high court and require a redrawing of districts for the first time in decades.
The proposal, co-sponsored by Republican Sen. Patrick McMath and Democratic Sen. Jimmy Harris, received the backing of the House civil law committee in a 10-5 vote and heads next to the full House for debate. It’s already won overwhelming, bipartisan support from the Senate.
McMath said the measure is a first step “to have a court that more properly represents the makeup of the state of Louisiana.”
If approved by the Legislature and voters in a statewide election, the measure would boost the state Supreme Court to nine justices, up from seven — with the new terms starting in 2025.
The proposal would require the Legislature to redraw the high court’s districts every 10 years after the latest U.S. Census data is released, the same way lawmakers redraw their own districts and U.S. House districts. If lawmakers don’t agree on a redistricting plan for the state Supreme Court, the redesigning of the districts could fall to the court.
“I really do believe that we need to do something about the numbers. One district’s got 300,000 people. One district’s got 600,000 people. One district’s got 400,000. It’s all over the place,” said Rep. Wilford Carter, a Lake Charles Democrat and a former judge, during last week’s House and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on the proposal.
Lawmakers say they expect one, and possibly both, of the new districts would be drawn to create new majority-minority districts on a court that currently has one Black justice, in a state where one-third of residents are African American.
“I think there’s a recognition at the high court and across the state that the court does not currently reflect this state,” Rep. Royce Duplessis, a New Orleans Democrat, said during a committee debate on the legislation. “We have not touched the districts since what, the early 90s? It’s time for there to be changes at the court.”
Carter wants to force the districts to be redrawn sooner than what is called for under the constitutional amendment, saying he doesn’t consider it fair to delay addition of a new majority-minority seat on the court any longer. He’s suggested the timeline for the change is designed to help the sitting justices maintain their seats.
McMath told Carter: “This is a big change. Let’s give ourselves as a Legislature and a state time to do this.”
While McMath and other lawmakers said the proposal was crafted in consultation with sitting justices on the court, the Louisiana Supreme Court has taken no public position on the legislation. The court didn’t respond to written and emailed requests for comment about the proposal.
The bill is filed as Senate Bill 163.