Supreme Court blocks judge from drawing Louisiana’s congressional map

By Wes Muller, Louisiana Illuminator

Just one day before a federal judge planned to enact a new congressional map with two majority-Black districts in Louisiana, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a last-minute stay of her ruling. It means the map that will be used for this fall’s elections is the version Republican legislative leaders created that the judge ruled was racially gerrymandered.

Over the dissent of the three liberal justices, the Supreme Court’s stay order arrived Tuesday afternoon with no signatures or explanations from the conservative majority. The order is not a decision on the merits of the case, but it effectively shuts down any hope Black voters in Louisiana had of gaining representation for the midterm elections.

U.S. District Court Judge Shelly Dick, of Louisiana’s Middle District in Baton Rouge,  planned to set in place a new map of Louisiana’s U.S. House districts Wednesday as part of her final order in the redistricting lawsuit, Robinson v. Ardoin. A group of Black voters brought and won a lawsuit against the Louisiana Legislature and Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, the state’s top election official.

Dick had earlier ruled the Republican-dominated Legislature adopted a map in February to tilt elections in favor of white conservative candidates. Louisiana’s population had grown to be one-third Black, according to the 2020 Census, but GOP lawmakers refused to give Black voters a second congressional seat out of the state’s six U.S. House districts. 

The defendants appealed Dick’s ruling and asked for a stay from the conservative-stacked 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. An appellate panel refused to stay the the judge’s order, saying the defendants were unlikely to win on the merits of the case. Meanwhile, a separate 5th Circuit panel was scheduled to consider the merits of the appeal July 8.

With Dick scheduled to enact a new map Wednesday, the appellate hearing would have come too late, so the defendants asked the Supreme Court to stay the ruling. 

NAACP Legal Defense Fund attorney Jared Evans, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Black voters, did not expect the Supreme Court to make its decision so quickly after the defendants filed their stay request 10 days ago.  

The Supreme Court’s conservative majority has a recent history of undoing similar Voting Rights Act cases. Justices stayed a similar lower court ruling for Alabama’s congressional map in February without ruling on the merits. Although the Supreme Court did not combine the Louisiana case with Alabama’s, the two are very similar. The prevailing justices reasoned that there was too little time — three months — for Alabama officials to plan their primary election under a new map.  

Evans and many voting rights activists were confident in Louisiana’s case, which appeared stronger on many points, including the fact that Louisiana’s election is not until the end of the year, precluding justices from giving the “too little time” reason. But the justices blocked it nonetheless and did not give any reasons for their decision. 

Evans, for the first time since filing the lawsuit, declined to comment when contacted by the Illuminator.

The stay order for Louisiana will remain in effect until the justices decide on the merits of the Alabama lawsuit, which should be no later than next June.

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