Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Louisiana Supreme Court justices want their districts redrawn

by BIZ Magazine

By Greg LaRose, Louisiana Illuminator

NEW ORLEANS — A majority of justices on the Louisiana Supreme Court are calling on incoming state leaders to redraw the court’s seven districts to add a second with a majority of Black voters. They’re urging that it be part of an upcoming court-ordered redistricting session of the legislature. 

Five justices signed a letter sent Wednesday to Gov.-elect Jeff Landry, Attorney General-elect Liz Murrill, incoming Louisiana House Speaker Phillip DeVillier and state Senate President designee Cameron Henry. In it, they lend their support to a proposal that creates a second minority-majority district among the court’s seven seats.  

Landry plans to call lawmakers into session from Jan. 15-23 to handle a federal court-ordered recrafting of the state’s congressional districts. The next governor’s hand is forced on congressional districts because U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick set a Jan. 31 deadline for the legislature to add a second majority-Black district — a reapportionment task its Republican majority refused to handle last year.

Louisiana law doesn’t require lawmakers to redraw boundaries for Louisiana Supreme Court districts, unlike legally mandated decennial updates to boundaries for its U.S. House, legislative and state school board seats. Although their letter carries no more weight than a strong suggestion, the justices hint that the court’s current composition could face a legal challenge similar to the one the congressional map faces.   

“The Supreme Court has also heard concerns related to malapportionment of the Supreme Court election districts, which have only been redistricted twice in more than 100 years,” the justices’ letter said. “The current election districts have not been updated in more than 25 years. We feel the time to act relative to these issues is now.”

The five Louisiana Supreme Court associate justices who signed the letter are Willie Crain, James Genovese, Piper Griffin, Jefferson Hughes and Jay McCallum. Griffin is the only Black justice on the state’s highest court.

Chief Justice John Weimer and Associate Justice John Crichton did not sign the letter, although it wasn’t immediately known whether they support or oppose adding a second minority district.

During the 2022 redistricting session, state lawmakers were presented with four different versions of new Louisiana Supreme Court districts. Three of them, all House bills, added a second majority-Black district and advanced from a redistricting committee. However, none were brought up for a House floor vote.

Census numbers show Louisiana’s Black population nearing one-third, which Democrats and voting rights advocates argue should be reflected through redistricting. Instead, the legislature maintained the status quo last year. Just one of Louisiana’s six congressional districts has a majority of Black voters, and only two of the eight elected positions on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education have Black representation. State lawmakers also left the racial composition of their own districts unchanged.

Two lawsuits are pressing the redistricting issue in Louisiana. 

To force an update of its maps for Congress, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund has sued Republican Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, Landry and the legislature’s Republican leaders on behalf of Black voters. The case is pending in the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, but Judge Dick’s deadline remains in effect. 

There’s also a lawsuit challenging Louisiana’s legislative districts. The U.S. Department of Justice intervened in the case after Ardoin said he would challenge the constitutionality of Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act.

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