Louisiana redistricting fight to be decided in federal court after Legislature fails to draw new map

By Victor Skinner, The Center Square

The Louisiana Legislature ended its special session without adopting a new congressional district map with two black majority districts, as ordered by a federal judge.

Sen. Rick Ward, R-Port Allen, addressed his colleagues on Saturday after hours of attempting to build consensus on Senate Bill 3, the only piece of legislation in either chamber that would have complied with the court order that made it out of committee.

“When I walked into the building this morning I was hopeful, I thought we had an opportunity,” Ward said. “But when you’re dealing with something like this, every time you satisfy four people you lose four people. Every time you satisfy six people, you lose seven over here.

“It’s a difficult task and quite frankly at this point one the courts are going to have to decide,” he said.

U.S. Middle District Court Judge Shelly Dick promised earlier this month she would select a congressional map with two black majority districts if lawmakers could not do so by today. Dick on Friday ordered defendants and plaintiffs in the redistricting case to submit proposed maps for consideration and set a hearing for June 29.

Lawmakers approved a congressional map during an extraordinary session in February that maintained the status quo of one majority black district and five white majority districts. Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed the legislation, citing the state’s roughly one-third black population, and lawmakers voted to override the veto.

Civil rights groups and voting rights advocates immediately sued to block the map over alleged violations of the U.S. Voting Rights Act, which requires lawmakers to provide minorities with an opportunity to elect a representative of their choice, if possible.

Dick, a nominee of then-President Barak Obama in 2012, agreed with the plaintiffs on June 6 and struck down the map. Republicans appealed Dick’s ruling but the appeals court denied a request to halt Dick’s order as the appeal proceeds. Dick also denied a request by legislative leaders to extend the deadline to create a new map to June 30.

During a second six-day extraordinary session, a House committee rejected three bills to create a second majority black district, while a Senate committee voted down Senate Bill 1, sponsored by Sen. Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge, to do the same.

Ward’s SB 3 was the only legislation to make it out of committee that would have satisfied the judge’s order, but Ward said on the Senate floor he could find no way to garner the votes necessary to clear the upper chamber.

“The problem I’ve run into, and quite frankly I’ve been concerned about this from the get-go, is that … we can’t find anything collectively that can get us to 20 votes,” he said.

Gov. John Bel Edwards issued a statement on Saturday about the failure.

“It is disappointing that after every opportunity to do the right thing and create a second majority African-American Congressional district as ordered by the U.S. Court for the Middle District, the Legislature has once again failed to do so. The current map passed by legislators violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. That is why I vetoed it,” Edwards wrote.

“The irony of all ironies is that for the first time yesterday, Louisiana recognized Juneteenth as an official state holiday. And today, on the actual holiday, which celebrates the day when enslaved Americans learned of their freedom, it is clear that our African-American brothers and sisters are still fighting for fair representation. Louisiana, we can and should do better than this.”

Also Friday, Attorney General Jeff Landry asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene in the case, arguing that Dick’s June 6 ruling “throws the election process into chaos, and creates confusion statewide.”

Landry argued that an Alabama case currently before the nation’s highest court “presents the exact question” at the center of the legal dispute in Louisiana, and that the two cases should be consolidated, or Louisiana’s case should be put on hold until the Alabama case is resolved, according to The Associated Press.

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